Buttermilk & Bastille: Two Olive Oil Soap Recipes

Making soap is pretty rewarding: you can take a few pretty innocuous ingredients and, with some careful measurements and a lot of stirring, end up with a beautiful, chemical-free product that's cheap and long-lasting. 

There's all kinds, but I've started to think olive oil soap might be the best option for several reasons. I weighed the pros and cons for you below.

olive oil soap pros:

  • cheap and one of the most readily available oil out there
  • very conditioning for the skin
  • like wine, bars improve with time, becoming harder & more conditioning

olive oil soap cons:

  • takes longer to trace (longer stirring time)
  • makes a soft soap (if you don't add other minerals/oils)
  • not a bubbly, sudsy bar (if 100% olive oil)
  • soap is a greenish/yellow and takes a lot of titanium dioxide (natural mineral) powder to whiten

I've found some workarounds for these cons. I intend to purchase an immersion blender, since I've been using a far inferior hand mixer. I hear it's a game changer: stir for minutes instead of hours. Second, adding just 15% coconut oil to 85% olive oil really helps with bubbles and hardness; so does sodium lactate (a natural salt, so if you don't have this ingredient, dissolved salt in your lye solution works just as well). Because of my hand mixer situation, I've been adding 2 teaspoons of honey to accelerate trace. This helps with hardness and bubbles as well, though not the caramel colour situation. 

Better luck next time...

Once I have my immersion blender, I'm going to try using coconut milk, which apparently is less likely to scorch (turn yellow) and helps contribute to a creamy white shade. But for now, I will catalogue these recipes as learning experiences. 

Slow & Steady Bastille Soap

Blended in turmeric, then swirled in charcoal before pouring

Cured bar #inthewild, 5 months later! Love how much it mimics the wood dish.

Cured bar #inthewild, 5 months later! Love how much it mimics the wood dish.

Waiting to unmold...

Waiting to unmold...

Aaand, cut! Look at that swirl! 

Aaand, cut! Look at that swirl! 

Series: "Petrified Wood"

  • 25.2 oz olive oil

  • 6.4 oz coconut oil

  • 4.41 oz lye

  • 8.56 oz water 

  • 2 tsp sodium lactate

  • 2 tbs maple honey (accelerant)

  • 2 tsp powdered turmeric (for colour; add at trace)

  • 1 tsp activated charcoal (for colour; add at trace)

Cost per 100g / 3.5 oz bar: $1.19

Notes: This took forever to trace. We finally added the honey out of desperation—and in hindsight it was too much. The soap got very hot, 170 deg F, and you can see how much the sugar caramelized and crystallized in the final bars. Next time, adding a bit of hard oil like shea or cocoa butter, or palm oil, would have likely made a big difference. So would a 10-20% water discount... though I'm still a little fuzzy on how to calculate those.

Even though I put the molds in the freezer right away, the loaf molds still went through partial gel phase, so the colour transformation wasn't as complete or vivid as I'd hoped. Still, interesting how dark the sugar "burned" and then lightened over time. 


Buttermilk Bastille Baby Soap

Gorgeous! Love those forked charcoal lines.

Gorgeous! Love those forked charcoal lines.

This photo makes me want to use gold mica in EVERYTHING.

This photo makes me want to use gold mica in EVERYTHING.

Photo taken just before sunset...

Photo taken just before sunset...

I almost wonder if a better name would be "Saturn's Rings"

I almost wonder if a better name would be "Saturn's Rings"

Series: "Charred Peach"

  • 27 oz olive oil
  • 5 oz coconut oil
  • 10.5 oz buttermilk*
  • 4.3 oz lye
  • 2 tsps honey (accelerant)
  • 3 tbs Australian rose clay (for colour; add at trace)
  • 3 tbs titanium dioxide (natural whitener)
  • 1/4 tsp gold mica (accent)
  • 2 tsp activated charcoal powder (accent)
  • dried lavender flowers (accent)

Cost per 100g / 3.5 oz bar: $1.36

Notes: Coconut oil is pretty expensive, even the cheap stuff from Walmart. Colourants aren't cheap, either. Better if we could have started with a lighter base. You'll note the base ingredients are almost identical to the first recipe, and yet the liquid added to the lye (water vs buttermilk) is not equal. Originally, this recipe called for 8 oz of buttermilk and 2.5 oz of pureed carrots, for natural colourant. Some substituted this for equal weight, though I think that was a mistake. Some of that weight would have been the carrot fibre and not water, so I should have probably only added 10 or 9.75 oz of buttermilk instead of 10.5 oz. Perhaps that contributed to slower trace... because any excess moisture was certainly swallowed up by the rose clay once honey had accelerated trace. 

Next time, figure out a water discount. Even with Superstore bulk, olive oil is $0.24 an ounce. Canola oil I can get as low as $0.05 or $0.09 an ounce, though it can't completely replace olive oil. That would bring cost per bar to $1.09 each. I'm not sure how canola oil would affect trace.

We added probably more than 3 tbs of rose clay in attempts to heighten the colour, but alas, after gel phase it seemed to fade to a more neutral shade of peach. Perhaps the honey contributed to this colour loss, with high heat; but the honey also darkened the batch and made it harder for us to whiten. In future, make a harder bar so that honey isn't the last resort! 




Postpartum Superpowers — How a Selfish Introvert Adapts to Motherhood

This time last year, I wasn't even sure if I was ready for motherhood.

As a freelancer, I spent 90% of my week working alone. I chose how I spent my time. I could say yes to work that interested me, and decline projects that didn't. How would I possibly adapt to the ever-changing, always urgent demands of a newborn? There were no deadlines, no wrap-ups, no closed books—this next season was a lifelong responsibility. Even in the last weeks, when I reflected on how to finish well, I was mourning the looming loss of independence. 

Well, the little one is here now, and something very interesting has happened. I thought my battle would be one of spirit—that I needed to will myself to selflessness and self-discipline. But my body knew better. 

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Even when I am past exhaustion—when I would not, could not rationally get up for anyone—the baby cries and my arm pushes back the sheet. My legs swing over the bed. I've already lifted her out of the bassinet and onto the change pad before my blood pressure swirls my vision, struggling to catch up and I wonder how I even managed the superhuman feat. 

When she's sleeping past feeding time and I'm engrossed in something that feels important, my chest cramps and the milk letdown reminds me of a different priority. 

Oddly, there is no struggle of will. Sure, I have moments of irritation and disappointment, wishing I could actually sit down and finish something without getting interrupted by a diaper change. Wishing I could run errands without the ball (babe) and chain (feeding schedule). 

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Maybe it was those three sleepless nights in the hospital, when the rigamarole of hourly nurse check-ins reset my brain to permanent alertness.

I am no longer alone with my thoughts. There is one bastion tower overlooking all my grey matter, with a spyglass permanently fixed on her. It sees every twitch. It classifies every cry into one of three urgent categories: Love Me, Feed Me, Change Me.

MY body no longer functions for MY primary benefit: even the previously reigning hunger drive that used to regulate my energy has been relegated to a back burner. Meals become more of an strategic decision rather than a physical instinct. I eat when it is convenient. How strange. How powerful.

The self-discipline I thought I lacked, the shallow well of compassion I could never seem to deepen, flows long and far from somewhere when she cries and cries inconsolably.

I couldn't honestly tell you how I manage to sing the same song ten times in a row, when it would drive a regular person crazy. I can only tell you that I do it, because then she stops crying. Somehow, new instincts have replaced the old ones, so swiftly I didn't even have time to say goodbye. 

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Blessedly, my brain has regained some of its computing power. I believe it worked harder growing that baby, cell by cell, than any university course or workplace project I completed. Now that it is *only* responsible with the simple tasks of producing milk and nurturing a newborn, I can think. I can work. I can build. 

And as my body recovers from the rigours of pregnancy and childbirth, her ever-chubbying cheeks are growing proof that we are doing this. 

We are both growing.

There's Something About the Number 26...

What's your favourite number?

Mine's 3. And 7.

Yes, I have two. But after tomorrow, I might change it.

When I was 12, my sixth grade teacher challenged us to predict our futures. I fully expected to be a crown prosecutor and have a blue convertible VW Beetle and a blond-haired, blue-eyed 6' 1" surfer husband—who, by the way, I would marry at 26.

It wasn't an arbitrary number. My 12-year-old brain figured that, four years past a four-year university degree, my inevitably successful and adventurous self would be ready to settle down. 26 seemed like the magic number: old enough to do anything, and yet young enough, too.

Even though I foresaw my future husband with surprising accuracy, life rarely follows one's childhood predictions. I met him when I was 19, and within a year he proposed. I'll be honest, I wasn't sure if I wanted to settle down so quickly. Twenty-Six, that estimable milestone, was still SIX years away. But, he was ideal, even if the timing wasn't. I took him off the market.

26 weeks, or about six months, into my first real job (salaried employee), I began noticing spots where the shine had begun to wear off. It takes a while at any company before you can distinguish between personal opinions and the truth. No organization is perfect, but my awareness was sharpened enough that I made note of concerns in my journal. I vowed to stick it out at least a year—another 26 weeks.

That job taught me a lot, and I'm grateful for its flaws, which led me to 3.5 years with a phenomenal team at Trinity Western University. It was during that time that I turned Twenty-Six. 

I stood up (figuratively); I looked around. "26 is where it's at," I remember thinking. I was advancing my problem-solving and creative skills, working with people I liked, making friends I loved, and had a home, patio garden, and budding manuscript which gave me rest and restoration.

In The Year of Twenty-Six, I...

  • managed a team of 6 while holding 2 titles (2 - 6, get it?)
  • spent a weekend in La Connor on my first solo retreat, writing a record 7,500 words/day
  • adventured a glorious 3 weeks in Italy, fulfilling a lifelong dream
  • got rear-ended and upgraded my 21-year old clunker to a 2010 Matrix
  • attended my first writer's conference, fuelling the start of my writing career
It was a very good year.
— Frank Sinatra

When I transitioned June 2015 into full-time freelance writing and design, I knew it would be a short-lived season, since we planned to start a family soon. So it was important to make the most of it. Sure enough, 26 months later (Aug 2017), we conceived. 

Tomorrow, I'll be 26 weeks. It seemed like an apt time for reflection, since my fractured mind always seems to converge around the number. I'm past halfway through this pregnancy, and while this window seems to be the most productive and the least painful, I'm fully aware that the home stretch will be the hardest. 

And what comes next? Will she sleep? Will I? How will I feel, 26 days in? 26 weeks? 26 months?

Her due date, no word of a lie, is April 26, 2018. 

If the pattern holds true, I wouldn't be surprised if she came 26 days early—on Easter weekend.

I'm not superstitious. But I feel a certain peace with the chaotic maths of fate. The sum of digits that make up 26— 2 + 6— equals 8. The number of infinity. 

If the mind behind infinity's got my back, I'm cool with that.

Notable Reads of Summer 2017

Pregnancy replaced Reading with baby paraphernalia research This fall, but I did enjoy several great books last summer.

Princess Academy (Princess Academy, #1)Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hale is quickly becoming a favourite author. Her command of language is exceptional--she pulls you along with such vivid imagery, and yet the words are stripped down and deceptively simple.

Beautiful story of worth and finding humour and courage in the awkward moments. I love it when I can read a new fairy tale, and this one of singing stone is a keeper.

The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy, #1)The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Enchanting. So many old folk tales spun anew in this debut that I could not put down!

There were no straw villains. Each character was thoughtfully faceted and, though there was a large cast, I could understand motive, cause and effect.

We hate the things we secretly are. Isn't our hypocrisy ironic? It's easier to condemn others than to condemn ourselves. And we fear what we don't understand.

I love this brave, headstrong heroine who still needed help and comfort and encouragement, could NOT do it all by herself, and yet finds the strength to save herself and others. Well done, highly recommend!

The MementoThe Memento by Christy Ann Conlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lush gothic storytelling with a disturbingly riveting mystery. One dislike is the use of rape as a plot device, though the cause and effect of cyclical abuse and promiscuous behaviour is devastatingly realistic. After waiting the whole book long to understand how Fancy Mosher's "memento" would manifest, I was a little disappointed with some trope-y reveals of "he's actually your father/brother"...

Besides that, there was so much to love. Based in Nova Scotia? Around an enormous mansion full of secrets, surrounded by a hedge maze and labyrinth gardens? 😍 Before all goes awry, there is such a wistful description of simple childhood bliss: of berry picking and sampler embroidery and making pies and distilling rose water. Magical. Reminded me a little of The Thirteenth Tale.

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a heist. What a plot! I was slackjawed by the sheer brilliance of Kaz Brekker, the agility of Inej, the wiles of Nina, and their wrenching complexity of character. Each page, I kept thinking to myself, "THIS. THIS, is how you write."

Every chapter is written from the perspective of a different character, which technically is a no-no, as few can do it well without confuzzling the reader. But it adds SO much. It actually saves the author from telling you much, because you are SHOWN things through different lenses. I don't even want to comment on the plot, or even give anyone a hint of what it's all about, because the whole book feels like a magic show. To tell you anything would rub the glint off the next trick around the corner...

What I will say is that the first chapter drew me in, with the barest minimum of worldbuilding, but Chapter 2 smacks you full across the face with foreign names, words, realms, and it requires a clear head to keep up. But once the characters tug your heartstrings...there's no turning back.

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows, #2)Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WOW. Who needs a trilogy when you pull off the 2nd in a duology so well?? Bardugo, THANK YOU for writing characters who have hard, realistic consequences to their difficult choices. Thank you for showing corruption, political futility, rebellion, and prejudice. Thank you for giving us hope in broken people, fresh starts, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, teamwork, and trust.

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you were... kidnapped? Tortured? Blackmailed? Forced to betray those you loved?

Well, even if you haven't, you need to read this book.

I can't say enough. The characters are still alive in my head. I think they may always live there. I hope my own books can accomplish even a fraction of this masterpiece.