Behind the front counter at Bath Boutique is a whole other world... a messy one, a world I absolutely LOVE. It has been my passion since 2005 to make soap, I have learned a thing or two, and I have my preferences for oils I use, and techniques I use. One habit I developed early on in my soapmaking journey was testing for ph or the alkalinity of the soap I make. It was important to me to ensure that what I sent out to my customers was not just beautiful, but effective, and safe. So let me tell you a bit about the ph level in soap, what it is, what is isn't, and why it's important.
So when a batch of soap is freshly made, the sodium hydroxide is doing it's job to rearrange things and so the ph reading can be very high - and that's why we let soap "cure" - basically we are letting it do its job, and when it's completely finished having it's chemical reaction - we SHOULD be left with a soap that is alkali enough to remove dirt and unwanted oils without damaging the skin, allowing the sebum to coat the skin again, and the cycle of cleaning and protecting goes on. I usually explain the chemical reaction process of making soap like having the cleaners come to your house. If you have a cleaner, (I don't, but I imagine this is how it would be!) you leave for work, your house a bit of a mess, things out of place, not looking it's best, but when you get home, everything has been rearranged, put back in their place, all clean and tidy and ready to be enjoyed... and the cleaners are gone. It's the same with soap - we add the sodium hydroxide to the oils, they get in there and do their rearranging, making things perfect, and when they have gone, you have a lovely smelling, safe, useful and wonderful product to enjoy.
Click on the images to read about each ph level.
Just as an aside - if a "soap" has been balanced so the ph level is 7 - or neutral, it actually is no longer classified as soap. So soap by definition is alkali. I won't send out my soaps until the ph level is 8 or lower - many commercial soaps have ph levels of 9 or higher, which will not feel good in the long run for your skin. There are many things that can affect the ph level of the soap, the amount of sodium hydroxide used - each oil has a different requirement for breaking it down, so what is used for one oil, may be too much for another oil. The percentage of oil that actually gets broken down by the sodium hydroxide (this is called a lye discount and is represented by a %) so if a soap has a discount of 5% - it means that only enough sodium hydroxide has been used to break down 95% of the oil, leaving 5% in it's unbroken state. I could go on and on and on about soap, the technical process, the discounts, the oils, the length of time curing - hot process vs cold process.... but I think that's enough for today!
In the "Stranger things have happened" folder in my filing cabinet is a collection of events, occasions, and opportunities that I keep to remind me of things that have happened in my life that I find intriguing. This week I added to that. I was invited by one of my lovely customers to be a "Mystery Guest" at a dinner party. The first thing that I noted was that someone thought I was interesting enough to be a Mystery Guest at all! And then was the dinner party itself, which was beautiful, thoughtful, orchestrated, and mannered. I LOVED it!
This is a group of ladies who meet for one of these dinners every six weeks or so, or more precisely, when a new edition of DISH MAGAZINE is published. It started with all the recipes having to be made from the newest release, but has become a wee bit less constrained over time, but for the most part, this still holds true. There are five women who rotate through being responsible for different courses, at this dinner, we were one man (lady) down as she was attending the birth of her grandchild... and fair enough too! The Host, who holds the dinner party in her home when it's her turn, is responsible for making the Main Course, and, am I not sure WHEN this became a thing, she is also responsible for inviting a Mystery Guest that none of the other ladies are likely to know... That's where I come in! But more on that later.
The Table was set with full attention to detail, correct glasses for each wine, which was paired exquisitely with each course. Silverware (yes SILVERware) for each course laid out on three sides of the plates, the only alteration was made when it was discovered that the Entree was a soup, and we hastily changed the salad fork and knife to a soup spoon. Candles - check, Floral centrepiece, check, crystal water jug, check.
I love kitchens. I am at my happiest there, cooking, serving, baking and making. That is also where I feel the safest, as I am not a confident person, and groups upset my precariously balanced equilibrium, I have used my kitchen to hide in. Keeping my hands busy at something I know I am good at makes me feel competent. There was no hiding in this kitchen, it was not my space, and these ladies have done this before, and they worked their magic while I watched from a stool at the bench top, I sipped on a lovely Riesling while they got caught up on each other's lives and events. They included me and gave me background to events so I didn't feel I was an outsider, and I felt I had been their friend for years - as I got to know about their recent trips, family birthdays, and births, and upcoming occasions. They put me at ease quickly, or maybe it was the Riesling, either way, it was a comfortable interaction. Kitchens are great places.
The only person who knew what the entire dinner menu was going to be, was the person who was responsible for the Wine. They then took the menu, and the suggestions from DISH Magazine in to their local wine store to make sure the correct wine was chosen. She nailed it - it was delicious.
Don't worry, I haven't forgotten dessert, but just like at the table, one needs a pause, a clearing, if you will, a savouring of the savoury and so we lingered, cleared up from the main and turned to more conversation. And yes, this is probably where I was meant to shine - we talked about the Boutique, my family, our plans, our hopes for the business, my philosophy, my products - not in a staged way that made me feel like I was giving a "talk". They were genuinely interested, and asked all sorts of questions! These are women who are invested in their communities, and also INVEST IN their communities. These ladies, with their various backgrounds and own personal stories know very well what it's like to work hard, they all have, and do, and it was a pleasure to discover that they really do CARE, about so many things. They really were representative of so many of the ladies who come into the Boutique - they WANT quality, the WANT to support local industry, they DO advocate for Boutique Retail in New Zealand. We talked as well of our thoughts on the government, veganism, seasonal produce shopping, grandchildren, children, movies that made us laugh, and made us cry. (Despicable Me 3 falls into the second category by the way...) We spoke of the economy, the America's Cup, swimming in Bermuda and skiing in Queenstown. Life. We talked about life. Oh, and by the way - you'll notice the images are all screen shots. That's because my cell phone didn't make an appearance - not once, the only thing on my lap during the time there was a linen napkin. We face timed! Literally, it was beautiful.
So the whole evening lasted about four and a half hours. After my initial feelings of awkwardness, I got over myself and was able to really enjoy meeting these incredible ladies. They have wonderful stories, and lives that they shared so beautifully with me, a stranger. I actually felt really sad as I left, thinking that I wanted to get to know them better, and find out how some of the events they were talking about unfold for them! I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have a little glimpse into their lives. I am grateful to my lovely customer who thought of me, and wanted to give me the opportunity to share my story with her friends. What a great idea to have a dinner party where you 'do social' with manners, no funny snap chat faces, no interruption of conversation with a quick instagram post (not that I didn't want to!). It was such a treat to connect, really connect with people I had never met before. I might just try it more often.