Sore Muscle Salve

Last February — fed up with the stress and meanness of law school — I started playing capoeira as a way to work out all my negative energy.

Now, seven months later, I’m hooked and am helping my group plan for our annual batizado. We’re flying in mestres and profesors from all over, hiring samba teachers, and trying to convince our friends and family to come watch the event. Everyone in my small but mighty little group is doing our part to raise money so, naturally, I decided to whip up something crafty and sell it at the event.

Chilly Pepper Salve - Mamoot

I’ve been wanting to play with cayenne pepper for a long time, but hadn’t gotten around to it between making wintery salves for runny noses and summery bug sprays. But now I’ve got dozens of capoeristas to appeal to and it seems like the perfect time to tackle the pain-relieving powers of cayenne.

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Love the Way You Lye: You Can Use Lye Without Burning Yourself Silly

mmm, lutefisk

mmm, lutefisk

Lye is dangerous stuff. If you’ve ever thought about making soap (or lutefisk, ew) but have been too scared, allow me to assuage your fears. If lye were a Ghostly Gondolier who haunts Venice, I would be the Scooby-Doo team who shows up to reveal that the boatman is really just an loser who wants to steal valuable medallions. By way of a clumsy metaphor, I’m trying to say that understanding what makes lye so scary can be a great way to face your fears.

The Ghostlier Gondolier is nothing but a wimp named Mario

The Ghostlier Gondolier is nothing but a wimp named Mario

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The Science of Lip Balm, or, Why We Lube Up Our Lips

Ever wondered why lips are pinker than the rest of our bodies? As it turns out, it’s one of the reasons that we use chapstick.

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Eleven Things You Wish You Knew About Honeybees

I am not a person who likes bugs. I refuse to go camping out of fear that I’ll wake up with a spider dangling half an inch above my face. Ants marching in a straight line make me want to pull out a magnifying glass and fry them one by one as they come towards me. I’ve been known to take showers in the middle of the night after waking up from nightmares involving cockroaches lying eggs in different crevices in my house and body.

But bees? Bees are fascinating! Cute, even. I recently went on a road trip with my friend, Molly, to visit her family — including her bee-keeping dad, Jack — in New England. After two days of eating honey on toast, on spoons, and on a giant pancake, we got to go out and play with the bees.

The dutch baby pancake

The dutch baby pancake

I spent the entire 30 minute ride out to the farm pestering Jack with questions like a kindergardener.

Where do you get bees?

They come in the mail.

How much honey do you get every year?

Two years ago we harvested 15 gallons but last year we only got 2.

Have you ever been stung?

Yes. 

We went to two of his hives, one where the bees had died from not having enough to make it through the winter (although, bafflingly, an entire lower drawer of honeycomb had been entirely ignored by the bees who ate from bottom to top and died in droves near the top) and another mean-ass colony who were still alive and kicking in 15 degree weather. After an afternoon spent poking around the hives, I went home with a plan for my retirement, a jar full of Jack’s Gold, and a head full of bee knowledge that I can’t wait to tell you about.
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Saponification Station

Soap is the metallic salt of a fatty acid. What in the world does that mean? Well, in chemistry, salt isn’t just the white stuff that always hangs with the pepper, it’s any product that comes from neutralizing an acid and a base. Let’s take kitchen salt (sodium chloride) as an example. When you combine hydrochloric acid (HCl) with sodium hydroxide (NaOH), you get sodium chloride (NaCl) and water.

HCl + NaOH –> NaCl + H2O

This is particularly cool because hydrochloric acid is crazy acidic (it’s the stuff that your stomach uses to break down food) and sodium hydroxide is suuuuper alkaline (remember the scene in Fight Club when Brad Pitt burns that ugly hole in Edward Norton’s hand? That’s lye AKA sodium hydroxide) which means achtung, baby! Put them together, though, and you get two completely safe and consumable substances.

Making soap – or saponification, if you’re savvy – is pretty much the same thing. Add lye to an oil and you get a salt that we call soap! More specifically, you combine a trigylceride with lye and end up with soap and gylcerine.

C3H5 COOR COOR COOR + 3 NaOH + (H2O) –> 3NaCOOR + C3H3 OH OH OH

You already know what lye is, but what’s about triglycerides? As it turns out, all the oils we’re familiar with are different types of triglycerides. If you look at the formula for triglyceride, you’ll notice there are some R’s up in there. Those R’s stand for fatty acid radicals, three of which are combined to create a single type of oil. Olive oil, for example, is made up of two oleic acid radicals and one palmitic acid radical. Because of their chemical makeup, different oils and fats have specific properties that can be helpful or harmful in soap making. We’ll talk more about this when we get to the recipe.

The glycerin that’s a byproduct of the reaction is one of the best reasons to make your own soap. Glycerin is a humectant (a thing that keeps moist things moist) and makes your skin soft and moisturized. Often, store-bought soaps have been stripped of most of their glycerin, which is then sold to be used in more expensive bath products.