Sunday, November 28, 2010

Great Shaving Lather

I have spent quite a long time trying to perfect my recipe for great shaving soap, but even great soap can be disappointing if you're not using a good method for building shaving lather with your brush.  The following is an illustrated example of one reliable method, though it's not by any means the only one.  Since I didn't grow up shaving myself, I had to learn from somewhere.  My thanks goes to the guys over at Badger and Blade for their suggestions and shaving "how to" resources.

Loading the Brush with Soap:
Fill sink with hot water and soak brush for 3-5 minutes. This allows the bristles to retain and control the amount of water in the lather.

Place a thin layer of water on your soap and let it soak for at least a couple of minutes.

Remove brush from the hot water and squeeze bristles vigorously, wringing out most of the water. Give it a couple of good shakes as well.

Dump the thin layer of water off of soap and begin swirling your brush in a circular motion with light to medium pressure. Add some plunger motions, using the whole brush and including the sides of the brush. Continue swirling until a paste-like consistency begins to form on the top of the soap and on the brush.

Bubbles mean too much water. A large volume of lather means too much water.
Continue to swirl until a noticeable audible and tactile difference is made when the brush moves over the soap. When the paste is forming the brush is noisier and seems to drag over the soap instead of smoothly going over the top.
Take a look at your brush, do the bristles clump together? If yes, you're done. If no, continue to swirl and load.

Now you can build lather on your face (see following), in your hand, or in a separate bowl.

Face Lathering Method:
Follow all of the preceding directions for loading up your brush with soap.
Give your face a liberal splash of warm water and leave it dripping.
Take the brush to your face and swirl/scrub/paint until the lather reaches a nice, thick consistency (peaks that stand).

If lather is too thick, add water to the brush a few drops at a time by dipping only the tip of the brush into your hot water. If lather is too thin, return to the soap for 5-10 second intervals. If you need more lather at any time during the shave just work the soap with your brush again.

Here's a great video that shows this technique, along with some others, for building lather:

Happy shaving!

Monday, November 22, 2010


When I first started making soap a number of years ago, all my bars contained a large percentage of tallow, which is rendered beef fat. It is an extremely hard, white substance that is so pure that it can be stored at room temperature for extended periods and doesn’t require refrigeration. I used tallow because the vintage book that I first learned soapmaking from recommended it, and also because I had an abundant and inexpensive supply as the daughter of a cattle rancher. I love the quality of soap that you get when tallow is mixed with other vegetable oils like coconut, palm and olive. It produces a hard bar with lots of stable lather and abundant bubbles.

Tallow is arguably the most traditional ingredient for cold process soap in the United States, particularly in the West. Homesteaders and settlers who had to make their own soap from scratch on a regular basis would use whatever fats or oils were handy. They would mix them in a tub with water and the potash left from burning wood and could achieve a very soft, but usable soap from those ingredients they had on hand.

 Most handcrafted, cold-process soaps on the market today do not contain tallow. This is probably a result of a couple of factors. I think that generally folks don’t like the idea of washing with something that contains animal fat. Most people don’t understand that even though fats and oils are base ingredients in soap, the chemical process that occurs in soapmaking doesn’t leave any fats or oils behind (unless it’s on purpose). The sodium hydroxide actually changes the base ingredients into a whole new chemical substance, so there’s no beef fat being rubbed on your body. The other issue is an environmental one. By using beef tallow in soap we are consuming beef products, the production of which puts its own unique strain on the environment and natural resources.

I switched to making all vegetable soaps when I began selling to the general public, but I have struggled all along with how to choose my ingredients and balance their performance in the soap with the environmental impact that their use has on the world we live in. Most of the best soapmaking oils are produced far, far away and require a large amount of energy to harvest and transport to where I use them. To me, this makes the choice of vegetable oils over tallow less straightforward. Like leather, tallow is more of a by-product of the beef industry than a driving economic force on its own, and it’s local…in my case, very local.

I will now add one more variable to the tallow equation: shaving. There is a growing and very vociferous contingent of wet-shaving aficionados who swear by tallow as an ingredient in their shaving soaps. Visiting a site like Badger and Blade will give you some sense of the spirited debate that is going on in the burgeoning wet-shaving world about traditional tallow soap pucks and the rapid decline in their availability. The world seems to need more tallow shave soap.

So, I have decided to re-introduce tallow as an ingredient in a limited fashion to my soap offerings. My two new shaving soaps both contain a generous amount of tallow and are mixed with other vegetable oils to produce a great, foamy lather and memorable shaving experience. It’s taken me longer than I expected to hone my recipe and perfect my finished product, but it’s finally done! I am happy to announce the arrival of Filthy Rich Shave Soap and Old School Shave Soap, which are added to my all-vegetable Smooth Shave Soap to round out the selection. I sure hope everybody likes them!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Potty Mouth Soap

photo courtesy of Tack-o-Rama

I never had my mouth washed out with soap as a child (I was angelic), but my husband did…several times. The most memorable instance was in junior high when he cursed out the father of a good friend. The practice of mouth washing with soap goes way back and has mostly been followed in Britain, Australia and North America. I don’t think I could ever actually do it to my own kids, but it makes a great theme for soap, doesn’t it?

My new Potty Mouth Soap has been in the planning stage for quite awhile. I’ve run the concept by many of the parents at my kids’ school and always gotten a chuckle and thumbs up response to the idea. So here it is! It’s actually a lovely soap in its own right, with clove and sweet orange essential oils. You might not want to waste it on mouth washing.

But then again…maybe you would. Because we all know that prudence and youth do not always go hand in hand.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Exotic Escapade

My mother taught History of Civilization in college for many years. She has always loved learning about different countries and cultures and tried to visit them, if she could. My mom and stepfather used to travel overseas almost every summer, and often led others on study tours of far away places.  The two of them were even married in Athens.  My  brother and I were very fortunate as youngsters to go abroad with mom to places that expanded our understanding and interest in the world. I think my fascination with other cultures and ethnicities is a large part of why I decided to become an ESL teacher as an adult. Some of my clearest memories are of the places that we traveled…with new sites, tastes, sounds and smells. I can close my eyes and imagine them now, even though I visited many years ago. Travel to new destinations is like manna to me. I even met my husband overseas!

In honor of this hankering, I have created a new soap that celebrates travel to distant lands and the exotic adventures that can be had there. I chose a sumptuous essential oil blend that includes frankincense and myrrh, and then added nourishing mango butter to the mix. And to top it all off, the handy travel tin that it comes in makes it just perfect for accompanying you on all those great escapades you have yet to experience! Just keep it clean and don’t get arrested on a midnight train to Istanbul.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Theo Chocolates

Yesterday we went on another great 4-H adventure.  This time to the Theo Chocolate Factory in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle.  Theo Chocolates makes organic, fair trade treats and is the only chocolate factory in the US that gives tours of its operational facilities.  We had a great time.

The lobby/entrance was filled with little piles of samples.  This one was my favorite: a dark chocolate with orange oil. 

We all had to wear hairnets for the tour.  Stylish!

I won't begin to try and explain what this machine does, but doesn't it look cool?  And those are bags of sugar on the pallet behind it.

This was actually waste chocolate that gets separated from the chocolate slurry because it was too thick and lumpy to be used in the bars.

These were the outer casing (husks?) of the cocoa beans after they'd been roasted.  They smelled great!

Individual chocolates being nested in their little paper cups before they make their way to the store. 

And finally, perhaps my favorite thing:  a giant chocolate Buddha head...just for fun.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shaving Brushes…TMI?

My dad has always lathered up for a shave using a puck of traditional shaving soap in a mug and a shaving brush. I remember the sound of the tap, tap, tap as the edge of the mug came in contact with the brush handle as it went ‘round and ‘round to build up more foamy lather. My husband has also become a convert to traditional shaving or “wet shaving”, as it’s often called. He likes the morning ritual of it, as well as the fact that it’s natural and much less wasteful than shaving foam from a can.

I have spent the last several years learning as much as I can about how to make a great shaving soap (more to come on that soon). I also wanted to be able to offer my customers great shaving accessories to go along with the soap, so I’ve also been learning lots about shaving brushes. Here’s some of what I’ve found out…

There are basically three types of shaving brushes: synthetic bristle, boar bristle (often just called “bristle brushes”), and those made from badger hair. Synthetic and boar bristle brushes are the less expensive options. Synthetic brushes have the advantage of not being made from an animal, but they lack the flexibility and lather-building capabilities of bristle or natural hair brushes, primarily because they are not capable of holding a sufficient amount of water to build a good lather.

Boar bristle brushes have a much firmer knot than badger hair brushes. This is not necessarily a bad thing. For some types of shaving soaps, a much firmer brush is an advantage in building robust lather, and so might be preferable. The bristles on a boar brush have the disadvantage of breaking somewhat easily, but do offer much better moisture control than synthetic brushes, for a low cost.

A badger hair brush is the softest and therefore most comfortable on the face. With the proper lather-building technique, a fine rich foam can be achieved. Badger hair brushes come in 5 different grades based on the part of the badger’s body where the hair comes from. Badger hair brushes can range in price from $30 to upwards of $600. The price difference is due in part to the availability of each grade. For example, “pure” badger grade hair covers approximately 60% of the animal and its abundance lowers the price. Performance is also a factor. “Silvertip” grade hair comes from the area around the badger’s neck and is the longest, softest and best for holding water and building a moist lather. It’s also insanely expensive.

I have chosen to carry shaving brushes that I think are best in terms of both price and performance. In addition to my lower priced boar bristle brushes, I now carry “mixed” badger hair brushes that I believe are the greatest combination of softness, moist lather-building capability, and price. My badger hair brushes come from China, where wild badgers are a good source of income (and apparently food) for many rural Chinese. The world’s supply of badger hair for art, shaving and cosmetic brushes all comes from 6 different species of Eurasian badgers. Chinese Meles meles badgers are apparently so abundant and such a threat to crops in farming areas that the Chinese government issues hunting licenses to help keep the population under control.

This is all just a bit of background for those of you trying to make a shaving brush decision for yourself or as a gift for a future wet shaving convert. I hope it all helps to inform! Happy shaving!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Costumes at Taproot Theater

We had another great 4-H adventure this week, this time with a visit to the Taproot Theater in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood. Since it's the costume time of year, we decided to see how real-life sewing and carpentry skills can be put to use in a creative way. We were led on a GREAT tour by Sarah, the friendly and charismatic costume shop manager and resident designer. We were there, almost to the day, one year after the theater sustained major fire and water damage caused by an arsonist on the loose in the neighborhood. He has since been locked behind bars, but the consequences for the theater and many of the surrounding businesses were severe. Luckily, for the neighborhood (and for our club), Taproot was able to rebuild and come back from the ashes.

During our tour, we visited the set for the current show Wedding Belles, which ends this week. We peeked in on the set construction room, which was filled with all sorts of fun carpentry and power tools. We also saw the Green Room and where the actors meet to read through scripts and prepare for the plays, and the make-up room where the actors get ready to go on stage.

But the main focus of our time at Taproot was the costuming department. We were eager to see some sewing in action, and were not disappointed.

They were busy getting ready for the holiday season show Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol. Here is some of what we saw:

We are planning to go back and see a matinee of the show when it opens at the end of November. We urge everyone to take in a production if you get the chance!! We're so lucky to have a great neighborhood theater like this to take advantage of for shows and as a creative resource for our community. Thanks Taproot!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Winner Winner Winner

And the WINNER (chosen by a random number generator) is #2 L who wrote:

I can't pick either, and this will peg my age:
Say Anything
Sixteen Candles
Sleepless in Seattle

Hey! All start with S, as do Skruben and Seattle Sundries! Creepy. Maybe that means I am destined to win? :)

I guess you were destined to win! Yay!

Please contact me with your address and your choice of two soaps so that I can get them out in the mail to you.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Couture Soaps

As I promised, here is a sneak peek at the custom soaps that I did for the Luly Yang Couture fashion event, which takes place this evening at the Seattle Aquarium. I think that they turned out quite nicely, if I do say so myself! It's hard to see from the photos, but the labels have a lovely iridescent shimmer to them, thanks to a little trick I have up my sleeve. What do you think?




Graphic image for labels created by Izzy Girl for the Luly Yang Couture Ocean event.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Sappy, Soapy Celebration

Twenty years ago this week I met my husband.

It was not love at first sight. As a matter of fact, neither one of us made a very good first impression on the other. We were both attending Glasgow University for our junior year of college and it was orientation week for new and foreign students. A student “mixer” was being held at the GU Union, a stately, 200 year old building with character and history. The large library and reading room had been converted into a beer bar for the evening. A space that was normally quiet and studious with its walls of books and large, red leather reading chairs had temporarily become abuzz with alcohol fueled conversation. I walked into the room with a bunch of Norwegian veterinary students I had befriended. There I saw my future mister sitting in one of those red leather chairs, holding two glasses of beer, wearing a fraternity baseball cap and t-shirt with a picture of drunk Bill the Cat, and in the company of a very loud American friend. If you could see me right now, you’d know that I have my fingers and thumb in the shape of an “L” on my forehead. I’m sure I shot daggers at him with my eyes. He thought I was a complete...ya know. We never spoke that first night, but I remembered him.

The next night there was a different event at the GU Union. This time it was a Céilidh, a traditional Scottish dance complete with fiddles, whistles and bodhráns. I grew up doing a bit of Scottish dancing because of that bagpiping thing I do, so this was not a new experience for me. It was, however, for most of the other foreign students in attendance. I couldn’t get anyone to try the dances with me, which I love (they’re a bit like square dances or Contra). The only person I could get to give it a try was that obnoxious guy from the night before. Turned out he was a pretty good dancer…and not nearly as obnoxious as he’d previously seemed from across the room. We danced and had a great evening. I also happened to have laryngitis and couldn’t really speak…not sure how much of a factor that was in us hitting it off. Hmmm.

Anyway, a few dances turned into dating, which turned into a trip to visit him and his family when he returned to the states a few months later, which turned into a long-distance relationship our last year of college, which turned into moving to Seattle together, which turned into marriage and three lovely children. It’s a good thing he was such a great dancer!

Because I feel that fate has been so generous to me, I am feeling generous in return. In celebration of twenty years and a friendship, partnership and love that has gotten better with time…I feel like giving away some soap! All you have to do to enter for a chance to win the give-away is comment on this post. My husband and I love watching movies together, so I thought it would be appropriate to have folks comment with their favorite romantic movie of all time. I couldn’t seem to narrow it down, so here are my top three:

#1 Across the Universe
#2 The English Patient
#3 An Officer and a Gentlemen

The winner will be chosen by a random number generator and will get TWO BARS of my soap in tins, varieties of your choosing. The winner will be announced on Monday, October 11th. Spread the word! I'm curious to see what everyone else's favorite romance flicks are!

Snail Sleds

We did a really fun project yesterday in 4-H that I wanted to tell you about. This was thanks to one of our more scientific club leaders, who organized a way for the kids to study the concept of proportionate strength. First, they all gave their predictions about how much weight they thought a snail would be able to's own weight, two times its own weight, four times, etc. Then, they made little paper "sleds" out of index cards with a string attached and taped them to the snail's shell. They put out little pieces of lettuce as an enticement for the snail to start moving, then began adding pennies to the sled. In the end, the strongest snail was able to pull over 60 times its own body weight. Amazing!!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Children's Hospital & Luly Yang Couture

One of the many things that I enjoy about my role as a business owner is the opportunity to be involved in fundraising for local charities. I will be a sponsor at an event next week that raises money for Children’s Hospital here in Seattle. I am thrilled to report that I’ve only actually been to Children’s twice, so far. One trip was due to a hockey injury and the other for a CT scan that was scary, but turned out to be no big deal. We are so fortunate to have three healthy children, and to have insurance and the money to pay for care if anything were to happen to them.

On our last trip to the Children’s Hospital I cried. It was not because of my son’s injury, but because of another boy the same age who was there. He was on a first name basis with the staff in the ER because of his frequent visits. He was bleeding from his nose and had very little hair. He and his mother were staying at the Ronald McDonald House. All hospitals are sobering, but to be a mother walking down halls filled with sick and dying children is more gut wrenching than I can express.

So, when I recently was given the opportunity to be a sponsor for an event here in Seattle which is raising money for Children’s Hospital, I jumped at the chance. It is the annual couture fashion show where local designer Luly Yang introduces her newest line of evening gowns and wedding dresses. Last year the event raised over $100,000 for Camp Korey, a Carnation facility to help children who have serious illnesses.

I will be a sponsor at this year’s event, which will be held at the Seattle Aquarium and will be appropriately themed “Ocean”. I am contributing custom Ocean soaps for the attendees as a thank you for their generous donations to Children’s. Putting together the packaging has been a very enjoyable creative process for me. I always like doing custom projects, but this one has been unusually fun. I got to visit the studio (incredible!) and sit down with Luly and Travis McBurney from True Colors Events to discuss the color scheme, textures and look for the show…and for Luly to choose a scent for the soap. Fun!

I’m almost done with the finished product. I’ll probably give you all a sneak peek, but not until the day of the show. As a sponsor, I also get to attend the event. I’ve never been to a fashion show before. Now I just need to figure out what I’m going to wear! Aaack! No pressure there…

image credit: Luly Yang Couture

Monday, September 27, 2010

Salmon Days

Autumn is truly in the air! This weekend is the annual Issaquah Salmon Days festival which celebrates "the annual return of salmon to our lakes, streams and historic downtown hatchery."

Did you know that there are seven indigenous salmon and trout from the genus Oncorhynchus in Washington and Oregon? They are chinook, coho, chum, sockeye, and pink salmon, and steelhead and cutthroat trout. Salmon are vital in the transport of energy and nutrients between the ocean, estuaries, and freshwater environments. As a seasonal resource, salmon indirectly affect the entire food web. They are super important and so have an entire festival dedicated to their return!!

The celebration includes all sorts of salmon education opportunities as well as a golf tournament, fun run, parade, orienteering event, international food booths, children's "field of fun" and a HUGE craft fair. Festival volunteers are called "Ohfishals" and the entire event is free thanks to "Spawnsors". Tee hee. I will be particiapting this year as a vendor at booth #65. So plunge into the event and soak in the sights and sounds of the season!

photo credit: Issaquah Chamber of Commerce

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Gender Neutral

My kids and I love root beer. We love the smell, the taste, and the refreshing sweetness of it. True root beer is made from sarsaparilla root, but in some parts of the country there is a carbonated beverage that is very similar to root beer called birch beer. It’s made from sap extracted from the bark of the Black Birch tree (Betula lenta). Apparently, in the dairy country of Pennsylvania a float made with vanilla ice cream and birch beer is called a “Red Bull” and one made with chocolate ice cream is called a “Black Cow”. Yum.

When sweet birch essential oil is combined with vanilla oil, it blends their sweetness and herbal spice into a smell very much like birch or root beer. I use these two oils, along with pure cocoa powder in my Gender Neutral Soap. Since kids often love root beer, I wanted to stick with a child-like theme for my root beer soap. One day I happened across this hilarious vintage image of two toddlers and knew I had to use it somehow. Don’t you wonder what it was intended for originally? I would love to know!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Smooch Stick

Here's something you probably don't know about me. I'm an addict. I can't go to sleep, or sit at the computer, or drive, or do laundry without putting moisturizer on my lips. This habit is probably most annoying to my husband. I've killed many a romantic moment by pausing to grab my "lip stuff" and apply a layer. Before a kiss, after a kiss...never during a kiss though. That would be too much.

A few months ago we had to take my car in to be serviced because the little storage compartment in the driver's console wouldn't open properly. The whole unit had to be removed. When it was, the repairman found a total of 8 lip balm tubes that had fallen down into the space under the lid, jamming it so it wouldn't open. Boy, did I get some dirty looks for that one.

I have tried lots of brands of lip moisturizer. I can't stand the petroleum-based ones like Chapstick or Carmex. Burt's Bee's is nice and I don't mind Neutrogena, though it contains paraffin. I've tried lots of "boutique" lip balms over the years too, some good, some bad. I just never was totally happy with any of them, so I started playing around with my own recipes a year or so ago. I wanted something all-natural, smooth, fortifying and nice tasting (but not too sweet).

This is what I came up with. I call it "Smooch Stick" and offer it in two different flavors, each with different nourishing oils and butters. The Sweet Orange and Spearmint Smooch Stick contains apricot oil, beeswax, grape seed oil, mango butter, vitamin E oil and sweet orange and spearmint essential oils. I use ammonium glycyrrhizate as a sweetener, which is a natural powder that comes from licorice root.

Here's a little back story on the flavor of the second Smooch Stick variety. My kids and I love marzipan. Our favorite bakery is here in Ballard and they offer a multitude of tasty treats which include marzipan or sweet almond paste. They even sell one pound bricks of plain marzipan, which we always have on hand in our refrigerator...just because we can. There's an ongoing joke with my husband (who does not like marzipan) that whenever I really like something or consider it a guilty pleasure, I say "Mmmmm....just like maaarzipaaaan!" It amuses me. We must enjoy life's little pleasures, right?

The Marzipan Smooch Stick contains sweet almond oil, beeswax, wheat germ oil, cocoa butter, vitamin E oil, bitter almond essential oil and the same licorice root sweetener. Both varieties of Smooch Stick go on smoothly, without a waxy feel and moisturize with natural oils and butters that make your lips feel soft and supple. It's like maaarzipaaan!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Brother

My brother John and his band the Dead Fiddlers Society have a new CD out called Livin' It Up (check out the track Ruben's Train). John is a musical talent extraordinaire, and I'm not just saying that because he's family and I have big sister goggles on. He plays a multitude of instruments: fiddle (Irish and oldtime style), banjo (clawhammer), contertina, guitar, harmonica and piano. He is a self-taught expert in refurbishing vintage free reed instruments like concertinas and harmonicas. He teaches fiddle, banjo and concertina to new and experienced players and he is known and respected by other great musicians all over the world. He's currently unattached, in case you ladies are interested, and lives in an incredible log cabin home on the idyllic Idaho ranch that we grew up on. AND to top it all off, his dog Ruben sings along when he plays concertina. It's really cute. Here is Ruben when he rides in the car with John and hangs his head out the window.

My brother is awesome and so is his dog.