Saturday, August 28, 2010

New Soaps!


Did I scare you?

No? Well, here's something else that won't scare you - there are two new soaps at Wonder Turtle Soaps that are perfect for Halloween and those cool, crisp autumn days that are allegedly coming.

These Spooky Skull soaps are fragranced with a fun Apple scent. The little skulls affixed to the top of the bars are made of soap, too!

And these cute Sweet Pumpkin soaps will make you want to eat an entire pumpkin pie all by yourself in one sitting (or is that just me?). A bit of clove, cinnamon, and ginger complement a base of creamy pumpkin and sugary vanilla. The pumpkins attached on top are made of soap, too, and they're colored with shimmery copper mica.

Head on over to my Etsy shop and check them out! They're boo-tiful! They're boo-rific! They're ...

Okay, I'll stop.

They're boo-tastic!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Gettin' Organized

Ever walk into a room in your house and suddenly think, "Good grief, what a mess!"

Not working out anymore.
Last week, I had to accept the fact that I was going to have to do something about my home office. It was cramped and unorganized, and my "storage system" was quickly outgrowing itself.

For a while, having a few boxes of inventory stacked one on top of the other worked. But as my inventory grew, so did my stacks until I had what looked like the Tower of Pisa leaning precariously atop a "shelf" of overturned Rubbermaid bins. If I wanted anything, I had to move dozens of boxes since what I wanted was usually on the bottom.

I was acquiring more supplies, more tools, and my office was starting to feel like a suffocating den of sadness.

So, this weekend I announced to my husband that I needed to do something about The Office Situation. It was time to bring in some shelves and take out some junk. Before I could move more stuff into the office, I had to find a new home for the stuff already in there. Being the sweetie that he is, Ken volunteered to clean out our loft upstairs to make room for a few things. Lots of things got thrown away - it was probably best that I was not involved in the cleaning up of the loft. After the loft was cleared, I removed from the office a chair whose only purpose was to hold my collection of stuffed animals. I also bagged up said stuffed animals and put them in the loft. I can be semi-ruthless when it comes to throwing things away, but I never can seem to throw out stuffed animals. One of the toughest things I had to do after Hurricane Ivan flooded our home in 2004 was leave a toxic sludge-smudged Love-A-Lot Care Bear behind to her lonesome demise.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy!
We picked up some wire shelves - on sale even! - and for under $100, I got two 6 foot x 3 foot shelving units and a six-cube shelf (which I'm going to use upstairs to organize my "shipping station").

I threw away things that had been hanging around the office for years. You know how it goes, you start going through things and you think, "Why did I save this? Whatever in the world made me think that, yes, I will need this again someday?" Into the trash it went.

There was one casualty. I broke a glass bottle of maple syrup all over the office carpet. How did I do that, and why did I have syrup in the office? Both good questions.

A few years ago, my husband brought home a bottle of syrup that was done up to resemble a bottle of Southern Comfort (only the syrup bottle was labeled "Northern Comfort"). Cute, right? So cute that I couldn't bear to use it. So, I displayed it. On a shelf. In the office. Which is carpeted.

While cleaning out the office, bang-shatter it went. The fallout radius was spectacular. And could I have spilled anything stickier and harder to clean up? I should have taken a photo of the spill, but I wanted to give my full attention to cussing, and I did not feel that I could do that and safely operate a camera at the same time.

Here I am, trying to not look sweaty and crazy.
I built the first shelving unit all by myself. It's not easy to assemble one of these alone. Especially when the shelves come in these double-glued, triple-thick corrugated Apocalypse-proof boxes that you have to rip apart like an animal.

The nice thing about these shelves is that the assembly is - in theory - fairly uncomplicated. Just clip the sleeves onto the pole and slip the shelves over the sleeves. The challenge is spacing the sleeves out evenly and having them not slip while securing the shelves. No tools required - although the manufacturer recommends having a rubber mallet handy to tap the shelves all the way into place. My hands are a little sore today because it turns out that an open palm is a poor substitute for a rubber mallet.

Ken came in just in time to help me put the shelves on the second unit. I held my breath as I stacked my soap boxes on the shelves, waiting for the whole thing to collapse like an accordian. No such thing happened, though, and it didn't come crashing down at 3 a.m. either (as most things that are going to come crashing down are wont to do).

I am happy with my shelves. The office is tidier and I feel like I have soooooo much space now. I wonder how long it will be before I'm going, "I don't have any room for anything anymore!" again?

Great success!

What are some of your favorite space-saving tips? Having more space is always a good thing, and I need all of it that I can get! How do you cope when you're long on stuff and short on space?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Recipe Wowza: Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

Ever had Mexican hot chocolate? It's hot chocolate with a dash of chili powder to give it a bit of a kick. I first tried Mexican hot chocolate last November at the Capital City Public Market in downtown Boise, Idaho (hey, y'all!). The chili powder wasn't so much spicy as it was warm and smoky - perfect on a cold, blustery day.

So when I saw this recipe for Mexican Hot-Chocolate Cookies in an issue of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine, I just had to make them for my husband's potluck get together at work. Whenever there's an occasion, I always volunteer to bake some sort of dessert. I don't get to make sweet treats too often - I love to bake, but I need a reason to do it because the last thing I need hanging around my house is a delicious cake looking all sad and uneaten.

These Mexican Hot-Chocolate Cookies are chocolate cookies with a bit of cinnamon and a dash of chili powder. Sounds weird, but, trust me, it's not. Even the kids at the potluck loved these cookies and there were none left at the end of the shindig.



* 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
* 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
* 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
* 1 3/4 cups sugar
* 2 large eggs
* 2 teaspoons cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon chili powder


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt together.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter and 1 1/2 cups of the sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Scrape the side of the bowl, add the eggs, and continue beating to combine.

With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat until just combined.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, and chili powder.

Using heaping tablespoons or a small ice cream scoop, form balls of dough and roll them in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place dough balls about 3 inches apart on two parchment-lined baking sheets.

Bake until cookies are set in the center and begin to crack on top, about 10 minutes (I baked mine for 9 minutes), rotating sheets halfway through.

After baking, allow cookies to cool on sheets on wire racks for 5 minutes and then transfer the cookies to the racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.


This is a simple recipe, but I do have a few tips for you:

First of all, this makes a thick batter. Don't be afraid to show it who's boss.

Second, things may get a little messy, especially when you go to roll your dough into balls. It's best to just accept this fact.

Speaking of rolling your dough into balls, here's a little tip from me to you because I love you and don't want you to go insane: Get yourself a little bowl and put some flour in it. Before you roll a dough ball, rub some flour all over your hands and then make your ball. The flour will help prevent your dough balls from becoming an impossibly sticky mess. It will also help prevent you from screaming and throwing your batter out of your highest window.

Finally, if you can have two pans in the oven at once, that's fantastic and I love that for you. I cannot seem to have two pans in the oven at once - the cookies on the bottom pan always scorch, even if I rotate the cookies and change racks halfway through. So, I end up doing one pan in the middle of the oven at a time. It takes longer, but I throw away fewer cookies this way. I just keep two pans in rotation and prep the next pan while the other one is baking. (Just make sure your pans have time to cool down between batches!)

This recipe says it makes 32 cookies, but I got 26 cookies. They are beautiful, perfectly round cookies. The edges are crunchy and the insides are tender. I couldn't really taste the chili powder - it just adds a bit of depth to the chocolate-y chocolateness.

Next time, I may add some chocolate chips to the batter just to bump up the chocolate factor a bit more.

If you make these Mexican Hot-Chocolate Cookies, I hope that you and yours enjoy them! Let me know what you think of them, if you do give this recipe a go.

What sorts of yummy goodness are you all baking up out there? Do share - Wally the Wonder Turtle and I love to swap cooking and baking stories almost as much as we like swapping soaping stories!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Can't We Get Along? (A Fragrance Oil Story)

Ever had a fragrance oil that had to earn your trust? Or, more specifically, earn it back?

Wonder Turtle friends, I have been given reasons to distrust certain things during my lifetime. I have learned to distrust mean people, sharp things, and angry ants. But never before had I a reason to distrust a fragrance oil.

Until a couple of months ago.

This fragrance oil - I don't want to say its name so I'll call it "Bob" - first came to me as a sample. I liked Bob so much, I bought some more.

Bob is a lovely fragrance. I love Bob. I do. Bob smells great.

But Bob betrayed me. Twice. And Bob had to earn my trust back.

Before I use a fragrance oil for the first time, I always go to the supplier's website to note any discoloration issues. I even write this information on the label with a Sharpie pen. When I checked Bob's status, the supplier indicated that there was slight discoloration, and two testers attested that there was absolutely no discoloration at all.

So, I'm thinking that there is little to no chance of discoloration. Right?


So I go off into my happy soaping kitchen, ready to do something wonderful with Bob.

This is what Bob looked like after unmolding:

Oooh ...pretty!

And this is what Bob looked like about three weeks later:

Eww ... gross!

Of course, discoloration is harmless and the soap is still perfectly fine to use. It's sometimes just ... well, ugly.

The thing about Bob was that he didn't show his true colors until about two weeks later. So, for the first week or so, he looked fine. And a week is just enough time to fall in love with Bob. But after that ...

I thought to myself, "I really should give Bob another chance. It's not his fault. Maybe it's something I did. Or maybe it's something I didn't do ..."

Because Bob turned my soap a putrid shade of brown, I figured there must be some vanilla in the fragrance oil that I didn't know about. Usually you know when a fragrance oil contains vanilla, but I was getting the feeling that Bob was the silent, mysterious type. So I made up another batch using vanilla color stabilizer, which prevents vanilla-containing fragrance oils from turning your soap brown.

I watched the soap for a couple of weeks and did not notice any significant change. If it wasn't vanilla causing the soap to change color, I would have seen evidence by then. The vanilla color stabilizer was working!

Wrong again. And this is where the second betrayal came in.

During the third and fourth week, the green portion began to darken, which I found both fascinating and puzzling. If vanilla was not the culprit, then why did the vanilla color stabilizer seem to slow the discoloration? And even more interesting was the observation that the orange portions of the soap fared much better than the green.

Hmmm ...

Soon, the bars with the vanilla color stabilizer looked just as bad as the discolored bars from the first batch.

I could not figure Bob out. Most people probably would have kicked Bob to the curb and screamed, "Get out of my life!" But I couldn't do that to Bob - I loved him.

I decided that I just needed to get to know Bob better, to explore his true nature. He just needed somebody to love him for who he is.

So I did a little experiment.

I took some clear melt-and-pour base and some white, and I fragranced them with Bob. No colorants; just soap and Bob. And then I watched and waited.

Immediately, I caught a glimpse of Bob's personality. As the days went by, his personality deepened. After two weeks, I felt that I understood Bob completely.

This is Bob after one day, freshly unmolded:

And here he is two weeks later:

As you can see, Bob discolors quite a lot. I believe some sort of citrus oil is making him behave this way.

I guess Green + Orange/pink = Eww, gross.

How did the testers not experience any discoloration with Bob? I don't have any idea. Either I am having a bizarre problem that nobody else is having (it happens more often than you'd think), or Bob managed to dupe us all. I don't believe I was intentionally misled. The vendor I bought Bob from is reputable and I still regularly and happily buy from them. Perhaps at the time the testers submitted their reviews, Bob had not shown himself yet. Maybe the testers were cold-process soapmakers and Bob behaves differently in CP soap than he does in melt-and-pour soap. I don't know.

The good news is that I think Bob and I can get along now. I just have to let him be himself and not try to force him to be something that he's not. What he is is bright pink or fiery orange-red, depending on where he is. He is bold, but beautiful. I rather like what he does to clear soap, and I think I will let him rock out with that.

All is forgiven.

And we will both live happily ever after.

Even though this story had a happy ending (eventually), it also contains a lesson: Always test your fragrance oils, especially if you are selling your soaps. Watch what they do to your soaps for at least a couple of weeks, even if you aren't expecting them to do anything weird. 'Tis far better for you to have a nasty surprise than your customer.