Whose idea was starting a small business?

by Veronica on April 22, 2014

in Soapmaking

soap 011

Easter, wow. It’s not my favourite holiday, despite the plethora of chocolate around. I wasn’t organised, mentally at least, for the chaos it was going to cause. Plus, two ASD children adjusting to the first school holidays of the season have made it interesting.

I think things are starting to smooth out now. No one has deliberately made Evelyn scream today – except for me when I forced her to have her face washed.

But onwards and upwards.

I registered a business name last night, and in the coming months we’ll be getting our business off the ground. No details yet – I can’t do anything until I register with NICNAS as a soap maker selling soap, and I refuse to pay them a registration fee now when I’ll have to pay again in September no matter what. Complex process, but it gives me a chance to get stock levels high, cure everything for at least two months and get ahead of the game.

In theory, anyway.

Above are three soaps I made on Easter Sunday. One gardenia, one lavender, one unscented. The swirls were a happy surprise from the heat of saponification.

Below are today’s soaps, still in their moulds and just finished gelling. They’re a honey brown colour, which wasn’t what I was aiming for, but turns out yellow ochre gets all temperamental when added to lye.

soap 008

Scented with a honey and citrus blend, it’s a lovely warm smell. Not the sharp smell of my favourite lemon soaps (I’m still searching for a to-die-for lemon scent), but warm and inviting and I really like it.

I have been so busy, Internet. Between the soaps, the kids and obsessive reading of books to ignore everything going on around me, I haven’t been online much. Except of course when I spend hours researching soap boxes, only to discover that shipping is horrible and everything is ruined forever.

I gave up on boxes in favour of muslin bags. If I was super talented, I’d even screen print them, and while I probably could (I like screen printing) I doubt I have the time or energy.

Clearly I need more minions. Or unpaid interns.

Positions vacant. Apply within.



Spoiler alert: I burned the cupcakes.

by Veronica on April 15, 2014

in Gotta Laugh

I woke up this morning and thought “FUCK. I forgot to bake cupcakes!”

This is not the first thought I usually have of a morning, which is usually more along the lines of “Oh god, morning already?” and “Can I hear the kids yet?”

Backstory: Isaac’s Kindergarten class was having a Pirate Party for a pre-Easter break up. Children were invited to wear pirate costumes, and to bring both some cut up fruit and veg for snack time, and party food for lunch time.

When the same thing happened with Amy, I wasn’t caught quite so unawares. Amy had a very pirate-y flowing shirt to wear, and black leggings, and boots. We made an eye patch out of black cardboard. I made fruit kebabs on straws and everything was fantastic.

Isaac had none of those things.

I could blame the virus which had kept me in bed over the weekend, thus ensuring I had no idea where any of Isaac’s potential pirate costumings might be.

So at 7am when I remembered his party, I quietly wished I could just go back to sleep and ignore the whole thing. Of course I couldn’t.

I was not bouncy this morning, nor was I well rested. Evelyn had had a relatively awful night and I had a baby sleep hangover. You know the kind, when you’ve woken up every hour all night and your head hurts and your eyes are full of grit.

Now picture me trying to get my act together to bake cupcakes.

A few months ago Amy became obsessed with my cupcake decorating cook book and disappeared with it into her bedroom to gaze at the pink sprinkles longingly. I’m not a huge cupcake fan, so I don’t bake them often, much to the disgust of my children.

Once the book hit Amy’s room it vanished into the great void which also contains all our hairties, multiple hairbrushes, left socks and pants that fit.

I was already scrabbling for a recipe, but it was nearly disaster when I couldn’t find THE recipe. You know, the failsafe one which always works and never ever burns on the bottom.

I found a muffin cookbook instead, with HALLELUJAH, cupcake recipes. I picked the simplest one. It wasn’t my best choice.

It didn’t take long to get the cupcakes in the oven, while Isaac ran around requesting a magic pirate costume to be magicked up out of nowhere because DAMMIT, suddenly he needed to be a pirate more than ever. Despite not actually caring about the costume in the days leading up.

But then he realised, wearing a pirate costume meant taking his school clothes off and putting on a vague interpretation of a costume which looked nothing like Mummy’s character on Assassin’s Creed.

“But Isaac! This shirt has sharks ALL OVER IT. Pirates love sharks. Sharks live in the water, pirates have ships, it makes sense, yes?”

He looked at me dubiously as I shook the black tshirt at him.

“And put on black jeans! Pirates are ALWAYS wearing black jeans.”

Frantically I hunted for a vest, or a shirt, or SOMETHING to make him look more piratey.

Clearly pirate costumes also disappear into the great void. Along with any black cardboard or cloth I could have used to make an eye patch.

“Can’t you just sew me an eye patch?” Isaac asked plaintively as I counted down the minutes for the cupcakes to be ready in my head, realising soon after that I hadn’t made Amy anything for lunch yet.

“Mate, I don’t have any material to stitch anything and we don’t have any time. Now make yourself breakfast please.”

Evelyn wailed on the floor as Isaac noticed she had his iPad and removed it from her.

Amy sat on the couch, dreamily brushing her hair, half dressed and still un-breakfasted.

Making room in the sink, I washed the mixing bowl so I could make quick icing for the cupcakes, thanking god Nathan had remembered to buy lemons. Isaac made breakfast, dressed as a pirate in a black tshirt and green hoodie. He didn’t look very piratey. He spilled cereal all over the floor as I began cutting butter for icing.

Evelyn continued wailing on the floor until I placated her with a banana.

Peering in the oven, I noticed my cupcakes were looking decidedly sunken. And kind of weird.

But no worries, icing fixes everything. EVERYTHING.

Juggling icing spoons, (the damn buttercream wouldn’t smooth out) and cereal bowls and banana skins, I managed to get the cupcakes out of the oven.

Sadly it was too late for the bottom tray. Their bases were scorched, burned black.


“Mum, you shouldn’t swear,” added Amy.

Now I had ten minutes to quickly make Amy’s lunch, cut carrot sticks for Isaac to share, feed Evelyn breakfast and finish the god forsaken icing.

“Can you brush my hair?” Amy asked, handing me a hairbrush and ties.

20 minutes she’d spent brushing but here I was, doing it anyway. Lifting my head to the heavens, I bit down my grumbles and quickly threw her hair into a ponytail.

Evelyn tried to steal Isaac’s breakfast as I spooned ricotta into the icing mix, hoping to soften and smooth it out. Everyone screamed a bit.

Finally, it was time to ice. The cupcakes were decidedly sunken, but I had lots of icing! It was going to be fine!

“Mum, you should draw a sword on Isaac. Like a pirate tattoo.”

“That’s a great idea Amy!” Isaac piped up. “I want a sword tattoo!”

I can’t draw swords very well.

“Go ask Daddy. But first, brush your teeth.”

I iced quickly, hoping it would hold up to to slightly warm cupcakes, before throwing everything in the freezer for five minutes. Eve threw another tantrum as Isaac yet again removed his iPad from her grasp.

“Isaac! Brush your teeth! Amy, put your shoes on.”

There was icing on the bench and my hands were vaguely sticky. But the school morning must go on.

I looked Isaac over as he finished his teeth brushing. He still didn’t look very piratey. Not even if I squinted.

“SCARS!” I exclaimed. “You need scars!”


Amy has a good texta supply and it was short work to draw scars on Isaac’s face. He ran to the bedroom and checked it out.

“I hate them. I want them off.”

“Just forget about them. They’re not hurting you.”

He was dubious, but stopped scrubbing at his face.

I looked at him again. A bandanna! Every pirate needs a bandanna. And I had the perfect red scarf.

2 minutes later after hunting through my closet. “Here, put this on around your head.”

“YEAH!” Isaac grinned. “Pirates wear scarves.”


I tied it around his head. He shook his head.

“I need it off.” He said, dragging it down. “It feels bad.”

So at this stage I had an angry toddler, a mostly dressed daughter and a pirate who wouldn’t let me pirateify him even a little bit. I brandished my texta.

“What about a beard?”

Isaac shook his head.

“Just a little beard? A small one? Or I could draw an eye patch on you?”

No. No beards, at all, ever. And no texta eye patches. Briefly I hoped they’d make eye patches at school to assuage my guilt.

“How about a belt?”

No belts.

“When are you going to draw my sword?” he asked.

I looked at the clock. Late.

“Ask Dad to do it once you get to school.” I said, shuffling children towards the door, at which point Evelyn noticed and screamed her displeasure at not going in the car too. “Sorry baby, you’re stuck home with Mummy.” She screamed louder.

Amy went to put shoes on, only to realise she’d forgotten socks. And to brush her teeth.

Juggling again, I handed out lunchboxes and passed cupcakes to Nathan as they headed towards the door.

“Tell the teacher there’s nothing allergenic in there! Eggs, flour, butter, sugar.”

Don’t cupcakes usually have more ingredients I wondered briefly, checking the recipe back over again.

No, but it was strange.

One last chaotic rush and everyone walked out the door while Evelyn screamed in disgust. I gave her back the iPad for five minutes.

Waving, I looked Isaac over again. He was a very modern day pirate, in his hoodie and pants. Or not, as the case may be. Less swashbuckling, more saunter.

Or something.

I closed the door.

Looked at the sad burned cupcakes on the bench.

Wished I’d made my son more pirate-y.

He hadn’t even said ARRRR once.

School parties are clearly not my thing.


Soap, man. SOAP.

I’ve decided soap is going to do what soap is going to do.

So there’s a process after you pour the soap called gelling. It’s an exothermic chemical reaction whereupon the soap batter hardens, heats up, turns into a gel like consistency and then cools down. It helps to harden your soap and it changes the texture, colours and smell a bit.

You can prevent gel by sticking freshly poured soap in the fridge or freezer for 24 hours. Or you can alternately promote gel by insulating your soap with towels to keep it warm.

Science, yo.

I mostly gel my soaps. It makes them harder, brightens the colours and makes them easier to unmould.

But I wanted to experiment with some ungelled soap. Mostly to compare textures, but also to compare longevity, bubbles and fragrance hold.

I made a gelled castile (1oo% olive oil), which went hard, plasticky feeling and cut easily after a day in the mould. I made the identical soap, refridgerated it to prevent gel, and then waited to cut.

The cutting window was so small, I’m pretty sure it came and went overnight. Probably around 2am.

I went to bed with soap too soft to cut, and woke up to a brick. A crumbling brick. Thankful for a big knife, I forced the cuts, watching my soap crumble around the edges.

Ungelled soaps 1. Veronica 0.

Ruling it a castile problem, I moved on to my regular recipe, but avoiding gel.

The second soap was gorgeous once I got it out of the mould. Until I tried to cut it. Everything crumbled. The soap itself was nearing too hard to cut and I was worried about it ending up like my castile.

Part of the problem was the round mould. A round soap is tricker to cut because there’s less surface area at the base to diffuse the pressure.

I should have left it alone for another day. Hindsight is a beautiful thing. After two hours of fiddling, I ended up with a bowl full of beautifully smelling soap crumbles I was forced to melt down in a rebatch.

Ungelled soaps 2. Veronica 0.

The next batch was an orange cream soap. I carefully poured and put it in the fridge. After 24 hours it was hard enough to unmould, but not hard enough to cut. The first slice crumbled briefly and I set it aside in the soap curing cupboard to wait a few days.

I am perpetually impatient. This causes problems for me.

It was a sunny day and the room was warm. Soapmakers will see where this was going. My ungelled soap warmed up a little bit, got all excited and tried to gel itself belatedly.

I hadn’t left it in the fridge long enough, clearly. See above, re impatience.

I realised it was going all liquidy in the middle before anything horrible happened, like the entire soap melting over my cupboard. Shoved it into my mould, and carefully popped it into the oven for three hours at 60C, forcing gel phase upon it.

You want gel? I’ll give you gel! ALL THE HEAT.

It turned into a lovely soap (I cut it this morning) with a beautiful orange fragrance. But it nearly didn’t work.

Ungelled soaps 3. Veronica 0.

So I decided, no more avoiding gel. I’m too impatient, I don’t have enough moulds and I like the ease of gelling. It’s only a personal preference thing after all, and I quite like the idea of my soaps being a little harder thanks to gel phase.

This morning, I made soap. “Reindeer Poo” scented. The website describes it as “Reindeer Poo begins with top notes of apples and pears; followed by middle notes of eucalyptus, pine, and geranium; and well-balanced with base notes of vanilla, cedarwood, and patchouli.

I found it strongly pine scented, and carefully I wrapped my soap with towels to keep it warm for gel phase. I tucked it in. I practically sung it a lullaby, hoping that gel phase would soften the pine scent.

You know what’s going to happen here don’t you?

The bastard thing didn’t gel.

All that insulation. All the care. All the careful primping and hoping and wishing and NADA.

Soaps 4. Veronica 0.

It’s Murphy’s law really. I want a gel, and it doesn’t happen. I try to avoid it, and everything goes to hell.

I’m hoping this week has been the last week of chaos in the soap making kitchen. I did get some good batches out of it. The crumbly castile feels lovely, and will make a great soap for me. The orange soap has a wonderful smell which may have been different if I’d successfully kept it opaque and soft. The champagne pomegranate rebatch has a lovely marbled pattern which I’m a big fan of.

And the Reindeer Poo soap?

Well I’m not sure. I’m leaving it alone overnight, in case it changes its mind and heats up.

I’m not holding out too much hope.


The Year Of Making: Homemade Yogurt

by Veronica on April 10, 2014

in The Year of Making

A while back I spoke here about my year of making things from scratch, and how I planned to turn it into a series. Shortly thereafter, I got sick, fell apart, got exhausted and only managed to claw myself back to a semblance of humanity when I realised, hey maybe I ought to start taking my iron supplements again.


I’ve felt much less like dying, and so here is my first post in the series.

Making Yogurt From Scratch

It’s pretty easy actually.

You’ll need:

UHT milk
Powdered milk
A tub of starter yogurt
Sugar (optional)

A container (1 litre is perfect)
something to insulate with.


I use my EasiYo yogurt maker thingy, just because it’s the perfect size and it comes with a handy dandy insulating thermos.

Take your container and half fill it with milk.

UHT milk is best apparently, because then you don’t have to worry about heating and cooling the milk.



If you’re using sugar, add it now. I added 1TB to make it sweeter for the kids, but also made a blueberry sauce. Mix with a whisk until the sugar is dissolved, and then add powdered milk.

Powdered milk helps to thicken the yogurt, so if you like thicker yogurt, add more. I usually add about a cup to add extra fat for Evelyn. Especially as yogurt is one of the few dairy products she can tolerate.


Whisk the powdered milk in until you’ve got no lumps. Double check for sugar at the bottom, and whisk more if you need to.

Now add your yogurt starter. Usually I juse use a few tablespoons from my finishing tub of yogurt, but I got distracted and the last few tablespoons of yogurt went sour in the fridge, so I bought this:


Make sure you pick a yogurt starter that you both like the flavour of AND contains live culture. Check the ingredients. Without the live culture, you’re just making a mess.

Now, add water to your thermos/water bath/insulating place.

I use the thermos that came with my EasiYo maker, but I’ve heard of people using warming cupboards, or pots of water with the lid left on. All kinds of things.

The goal is to start with your water around 60C, and then to hold the temperature around 50C for a few hours to let the yogurt cultures do their work.


If it’s too hot, your yogurt will curdle. Too cold and the bacteria get sleepy and stop working (technical term).


Put everything to bed for a few hours. Mine took around 5 hours with the temps staying around 50C the whole time. Your mileage may vary, so for the first time, it’s probably better to start the yogurt in the morning on a day you’re home all day so you can check it. Once you’ve got your technique down, you can do it overnight.

The longer you leave your yogurt in the thermos, the stronger the flavour will be. I like a good sour yogurt but the rest of my family doesn’t, so this one is super mild.

004 (2)


I made another two lip balms today. One chocolate, using real chocolate, and the other using olive oil.

I wanted to see if the olive oil flavour comes through (it does) and whether I hate it (unconvinced yet). It might be better with a light olive oil, but I’ve only got extra virgin in the house, because that’s what was on special.

The chocolate lip balm however, after quite a bit of tweaking, is delicious. It was quite draggy and heavy after the first recipe and I didn’t like it.

But now? It’s divine.

I’ll post the recipe in a few days once I’ve done some more tweaking. I’d like to try using dark chocolate insted of milk, and cutting out the rice bran oil, which I found a bit heavy. Sunflower oil seems like a better oil for lip balms at this stage, until I can get hold of some apricot kernel oil, or avocado oil for testing.

I was going to use sweet almond oil, but decided being nut free in all my recipes was probably safer. Amy has friends with nut allergies and the last thing I want to do is introduce sweet almond oil into a lip balm and cause a reaction in a child.

Plus, it’s about brand trust isn’t it. If I use nut oils in my soaps/balms, then I rule out a number of people who might buy from me.

So, nut free.

Because I’m heavily in the middle of testing recipes and seriously considering turning soaps and lip balms into a business venture, I wrote about my process of thinking for Money Circle. You should read it. I probably got a bit ranty about poverty, but that’s nothing new.

Coming up tomorrow: Making yogurt from scratch.

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