Sunday, March 29, 2015

Making Soap While Pregnant

Yep...  you just found out you're pregnant and you make soap for a living.  Now what?  Well, I've been there.  Actually, I am there!  We just found out we are having our third.  Immediately, upon hearing the news, life changed... especially in the soap making department.  So this is what I learned through the first 6 months of pregnancy and soaping.

Cue Top Gun Soundtrack
1) Use protection: (That's what we should have done not to get pregnant!) That's not what I mean!  Just make sure you wear a gas mask, gloves, and glasses when mixing your liquid and lye.  It's important now more than ever.  We don't what you or the baby to have respiratory problems.  Better yet, have someone do this step for you.  I taught my dad to do it.

2) Lift with your legs:  In the first 8 weeks of pregnancy, lifting your oils (if they are in buckets) may not be a problem, but as the pregnancy continues, your back with hurt just because you are caring extra weight.  I use a back brace and lift with my legs. However, now I need someone to help... so I have my dad to help!

3) Push everything back on the counter by a minimum of 5 inches:  Your belly is growing and you may forget.  As a result, your belly may knock over your exfoliants, fragrances or anything that is sitting near the edge of your counter.  This happens to me ALL the time, so push everything back on the counter.

Get sleep wherever you can!
4) Rest:  Your body is working overtime.  The scents of fragrances/ essential oils may make you feel sick to your stomach.  Your joints (especially your hips) may spasm.  Listen to your body and stop when you need too.  Take a break.  If you have a deadline, explain to your stockists or customers that you are working a little slower, they'll understand.  Most importantly...  ask for help and forgive yourself for not accomplishing what you intended to too.  Your health and the babies are the most important.

And if you have asked for help during these 10 months, by the time the baby comes, you've trained someone in soap making so that you can concentrate on the baby and the marketing end of your business!!!  It's a win win for everyone!

What tips do you have for making soap while pregnant?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Soap Equipment Upgrade: New Mixer

For the past three years I have been mixing my oils and lye with a stick blender.  Recently, part of the attachment piece that secures the attachment to the motor broke.  Of course this happened while I was getting my mixture to trace.  Luckily, as long as I put pressure on the motor to keep the attachment from falling off, I successfully made a batch of soap, but I knew I had to buy another.  Needing a new
one desperately, I went out to Bed Bath and Beyond (with my 20% coupon) and bought a new one that afternoon!  Problem solved.

Fast forward to the next week...  I asked my soaping assistant (my awesome retired dad, who always thinks of how to do things better!) to come over and help me make soap. (Side note: Did I tell you I'm pregnant with with our third?  Yep, I am. So I've had to modify my process of soap making a's called, call your retired father to help. More on that later!)  What did he notice about the process? Quite a few things! The problem that needed the most attention though, was that I twerked my back (insert bad Miley Cyrus joke here) in a weird position when I mix my oils, which in the long run, pregnant or not, is not good.  His solutions:  new mixer from

He actually surprised me with it.  He came over for our next soap making playdate with a drill and this rubber blade, called the Willow Way Soap Pot Whipper. At first, I didn't think it was going to work.  It was to big for the amount of oil I was mixing, but I gave it a try and it worked fine.  The one difference I noticed was that though I could control the speed of the blade more, at a certain point, the speed would cause the bucket to spin.  So I had to slow the blade down which doubled the time for the oils to trace.  Working with beer, this is great because the alcohol accelerates it, but using water or other liquids, takes a VERY long time for trace to occur.  Which then brings in the back problem issue thrown in with a wrist ache.

The next dad solution... building or buying a contraption that 1) secures the bucket (allowing me to have lighting fast mixing capabilities) and 2) holds the drill for you so there is no bodily pain to your wrists or back.  I didn't think this was possible, but my dad found one...  really expensive...  but then he found one on Craigslist....  life is good!  I'll let you know how this works...

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

DIY Growing Hops Part 1: Purchasing Hops

Recently we have given our backyard a makeover.  It has all of our family entertainment needs, complete with a brewhouse, a soap studio, a play structure, a garden, and soon to come: a fire pit. We have also dedicated several area of the yard to grow hops for our homebrewed beer and handbrewed soaps.

In order to grow hops, you need to plant the rhizome, which is a cutting of the plant's root structure.  There are many different companies that sell hops rhizomes in the spring.  For our hops-growing adventure, we chose ten different varieties from three different farms/cooperatives.   Each has their own speciality and packaging techniques.  I will turn this post over to the master brewer in the family to explain each.

Where to start?
You can get a lot of information online, of course, but Homebrewer's Garden by Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher, and Homegrown Hops by David R. Beach provide great information that's not available online.  I started there to get an idea about what all was going to be involved with growing hops.  These resources are a great place to start if you're interested in growing hops.  Important thing to remember:   Hops rhizomes are only available in the spring, from February to April.  So, if you want to grow hops, make sure you plan ahead, and maybe even pre-order your rhizomes, to make sure you get the varieties you want to grow.
Top bags: Freshops, Middle bags: Hops Direct
Bottom Bags: Seven Bridges Coop.

Where to buy the hops rhizomes?
I wanted to buy direct from the hops farms, if possible.  There are many different companies that sell hops rhizomes in the spring.  Choose the one that best meets your needs (location, varieties offered, etc.)  After doing my research, I decided on three different companies from three different growing regions to see how well different varieties adapt to my Bay-Area micro-climate in the Glenview District of Oakland, CA.  (Get Local!)
Freshops - Hop farm in the Willamette Valley (Philomath, Oregon)
Hops Direct - Puterbaugh Farms, a 700-acre, fourth generation, family-owned hop farm in the Yakima Valley (Mabton, Washington)
Seven Bridges Cooperative in Santa Cruz, CA - I chose this company because the rhizomes that they sell are from organic plants grown in California!

What varieties should I grow?
Criteria:  Hops that were recommended for our Bay Area temperature and micro-climate; varieties that grow fairly easily and aren't susceptible to pests and diseases; a blend of bittering hops and dual-purpose (flavor/aroma/bittering).  I purchased 3-4 varieties from each company.  I tripled up on Cascade, knowing that I wanted a large supply of Cascade hops for my IPA's, and I wanted to see whose Cascade rhizome.  Final order:
Freshops:  Goldings, Willamette, Cascade, Chinook
Seven Bridges Cooperative:  Columbus, Magnum, Cascade, Nugget
Hops Direct:  Centennial, Cluster, Cascade

What kind of soil do hops need?
As for the soil, we made a special trip to American Soil and Stone in Richmond, CA-- a favorite local company of ours-- to see if they could help us put together a soil blend that would work best for our hops.  After reading and researching online, I explained to the staff at American Soil and Stone what I was looking for.  They recommended several of their different soil blends, and we decided on a mix of 1/3 ultra potting mix, 1/3 ultra bedding mix, and 1/3 local veggie blend.  Some of the plants are going to be grown in raised planters, so I needed a medium that would maintain water, but also be good to drain water.  This blend has both coconut coir and red lava.  For nutrient needs, the local veggie blend has chicken manure, which is amazing as a short-term, quick-release fertilizer, and the ultra potting mix has a special long-term slow-release fertilizer in it.  The one thing that I'm lacking, that David R. Beach recommends is Boron.  He says that the necessary amount of Boron is a "pinch to the hill." I'm hoping that my special soil blend will get my hops plants off to a great start and provide me with wonderful, fresh hop cones for our homebrewed beer and handbrewed soaps!

Next step... building the planter boxes and planting the rhizomes.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Our New Packaging: From Cigar Labels to Boxes

Our first label

I just calculated how much time it takes me to wrap my soap. From design, to print, to cutting, to wrapping for 60 bars of soap… three hours!  Clearly, I am not very efficient in the area.  Our first label was vellum paper with my logo and ingredients on the label.   It was secured with double sided tape.  The tape wouldn’t hold the label past three weeks.  

Our second label

So the next version was created.  This time, it was printed on Kraft paper and secured with an ingredient sticker.  It gave the soap the look I wanted, but… if it was a hot day and my soaps started to sweat, it would affect the cigar band with wet spots.  Plus, I was cutting labels and stickers out myself which took HOURS!

The Box! 
So now, I’m on to boxes.  It took me awhile to streamline the packaging, but I’m happy with the design.  It tell’s our story, and answers the question I get the most…  Will I smell like beer?  These boxes have cut hours off my wrapping process!  So what do you think of our new boxes? How you have streamline processes in your business to make life easier for yourself?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

You Are What You Eat: Heritage Food Revival

You know the saying, “You are what you eat.”  This has big a great message for the whole food movement, getting people to eat more healthy…  more fruits and veggies.  But I would like to take this to a new level, I want to explore the evolution of what I eat & why, and how my food preferences where shaped by my ancestors. 

How did I "brew" up this project?

When I was pursuing my archaeology degree in college, I took a class called, Ethno-Nutrition.  This was a class that taught us about nutrition through time and how it affected the population.  We explored different variables including famine, political strife, “plentiful” times, and other variables that dictated farming and cooking practices.  One project we had to do was explore the food we ate and why we ate it.  We were basically asked to trace the evolution of our diet.  The assignment had to be completed in two week so I didn’t get as involved with it as I wanted, but the subject has been an interest to me ever since. So, 15 years later, I have vowed to “REALLY” explore this topic.  What brought it up after all these years?  Well, I found my Grandma’s hand written “Go-To” list for cooking.  It’s a list she’s referred to when she didn’t know what to cook or had to cook for many guests. She also added to it when she liked something.  So over the next couple of month’s, I will be making these recipes, exploring how/why they were important to our family, and discovering why some recipes where passed on to the next generation, and why others were not.  Please follow along on my journey and I hope that I inspire you to explore your own food history!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Getting to Know your Local Businesses: Gracious Goat

It's time to get to know your local businesses again, so I introduce Kim Kandel from Gracious Goats. I met Kim at a local craft fair in Oakland where I fell in love with her lotions!  Here is what she had to say about her craft:
Who are you and what is your business about?
My name is Kim and I live in Oakland with my husband Matthew and my adorable mini-aussi mix dog named Mardi. Gracious Goat is about goat milk products for your skin! I make hand crafted goat milk lotions and creams using only essential oils and natural ingredients. Goat milk is perfect for dry skin because it is easily absorbed, is a natural moisturizer and protector, and it assists in the regeneration of skin cells.
What inspired you to go into your business? 
Dry, miserable skin! In my previous work life, I did a lot of air travel and my skin would become dry, cracked, and sore from the climate changes and the plane air quality. After trying many products, I found goat milk lotion provided the only consistent relief from dry skin and I became curious as to why. I was inspired by my friend Laura to make my own formulation and soon fell in love with the process of making something that actually softens skin and makes people feel comforted. It is a lovely mix of research, formulating, and testing. You have to be very exact about your ratios and process, yet there is still some creative play with the ingredients. I have a lot of fun in my lab!
What are some random facts about you? 
*I am from New Hampshire, "Live Free or Die!"
*I moved to San Francisco from Boston by train. Our country is beautiful!
*My deserted island "must have" playlist (as of today) includes Bach, Bob Marley, Bossa Nova, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Rye

What's your favorite local place and why? 
Redwood Regional Park. Living in Oakland, I appreciate being in a city yet having access to wonderful local hiking (especially the dog-friendly trails). The rolling hills, Oak and Bay Laurel trees, and the peacefulness of the trails help me clear my head. I often return home with some new ideas and I certainly breathe deeper. If you are lucky, you can see a few goats on the trails too!

Thanks Kim!  You can find out more about her on Facebookor her website!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Why We Brew Beer

We are all about enjoying life and really taking in the things that bring us true happiness- our family, our friends, and the little things in life.
There is nothing better than a walk through the forest on a crisp fall day, or watching a sunset on the beach.  But more than that, it's enjoying the first sip of coffee in the morning, an ice-cold beer on a hot day, or a glass of wine with your best friend!

Handbrewed Soaps makes soap out of anything you can brew in order to create more of the “little things in life.”  And we specialize in Homebrewed Beer Soap!
We brew for many reasons. We DO brew beer and make soap so that we know what ingredients go into it…  but it’s more than that.  The main reason we love brewing is because it’s a day that forces us to slow down and enjoy the “little things in life.”

  • ·   It’s the community that comes together for the event.  We enjoy having family and friends over to brew with us.  Many bring their own brew stands to have a brew-off. 
  • ·   It’s watching the kids mill the grains, and sneaking tastes of it throughout the day.
  • ·   It’s smelling the aroma of the grain as it’s mashing. 
  • ·   It’s the hours spent smelling the variety of hops, spices, and fruit and discussing the perfect combination to add to the brew.
  • ·   And while the brewing is going on, it’s the conversations of techniques people have used, the advice others brewers give, and of course drinking each others homebrew that have been brought over to consume from the last time we got together. 

We add our homebrewed beer to our soap with the hope that our soaps remind you of the little things in life.  For us, the aroma of our soaps reminds us of family a, friends, and a great day of brewing every time we bathe.  We hope that our soaps remind you to slow down and enjoy the little things in life!

What gets you to "Stop and smell the roses?"

Thursday, March 12, 2015

DIY: Liquid Laundry Soap

My review for the powdered laundry soap is in...  it gets clothes clean, but I feel like I always need to add more than 2 tablespoons.  This is purely a "me" thing... because the clothes are clean!  I think it's because after using name brand laundry detergent over my lifetime, I must be brainwashed that I have to use more (like a 1/4 cup or something).  More is better right?  So, I found myself doing laundry sprinkling in a little more washing soda or borax.  I was also at times putting 3 tablespoons of the laundry soap in.  So, I'm moving on to liquid laundry soap. This recipe definitely is MORE!  It makes 10 gallons!  I'll be having laundry detergent for years!

This soap is apparently the Duggar family recipe.  We don't watch TV (we're a Netflex family), so I don't know much about the Duggar fam. except what I see on the internet. Apparently, they have a really big family (19 kids), and laundry is a full time job in that house.  Therefore, shouldn't they know what works?  So their recipe is:

1 grated bar of soap ( I'm going to use my homemade soap!)
1 cup of washing soda (see recipe, if you can't find it in the stores)
1/2 cup of borax
4 cups of hot water
5 gallon bucket
MORE water

Melt the grated soap in a saucepan with 4 cups of water.

 Fill up the bucket half way with hot water.  Add the melted soap, washing soda, and borax to the bucket.
Mix and make sure everything has dissolved.  Then add more water to fill the bucket.  Let it stand overnight and it will turn to gel.

Some people use the soap at this point.  One cup per load.  But the Duggar family takes it one step farther.  They are saying that what we just made is a concentrate.   When you are ready to use it, fill half of a used name brand laundry detergent container with your newly made soap and the other have with water.  Use one cup per load!

So I'm going to try both ways...  I'll get back to you!

Review:  I consider the concentrate my laundry soap, not the diluted soap that the Duggar family uses, though it does work.  The concentrate is thicker (which I like, this is probably because I was raised using store brands) and it works.  My complaint is how it works on white clothes.  My whites got dingy after 3 washes.  To compensate I added 1/4 cup of baking soda.  This brighten them, but not as much as I was hoping.  So, for whites, I use my powder laundry soap. 

If you use homemade laundry soap, what discoveries have you made? 

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