Introducing The Tough Guy Hunting, Fishing, Rock ‘N Roll and Soap Club (Free Recipe Included)

Hunting in freezing woods! Fishing in ferocious deep-sea waves! Smoking your hard-won dinner over chunks of wood you cut yourself using power tools most normal people avoid at all costs because they read too many Steven King books! Air guitar and headbanging to bands shrieking and noodling at earsplitting volume with no detectable melody!  How tough guy is all that?  That’s tough guy, I tell you! And us tough guys (this includes girls) need our own club!

I have no idea who these people are. But they look tough.

Wait a minute, I hear you say.  What was that at the end?

Well, soap.  Soap is part of the club. Hunting, Fishing, Rock ‘N Roll and, you know, soap.

Prolonged pause, backed by Sesame Street’s “One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others.”

Oh, so you don’t think making soap is an appropriate tough-guy activity?  Let me fill you in, bub. (Tough guys say “bub” and “pal” a lot.)  First of all, there’s the screaming hot, scary caustic (as in burn your skin off and blind you if you’re stupid) lye solution you get to mix up and then dump into slippery and sometimes viciously expensive oils.  Then you use a wicked sharp stick blender to beat said mix into submission without splattering it all over yourself, add various other (usually expensive) stuff in various exact amounts at exactly the right times, beat it or abuse it some more, and then pour it into a mold without spilling it on everything around you because that countertop will cost a fortune to replace.  Now if that isn’t tough-guy material, I don’t know what is.  What’s more, it’s synergistic with other tough-guy activities!

All right, let me prove it to you.  Deep-sea fishing counts, right?  (It’s right up there in the title.)  Bracing the surging waves, far from shore, fighting a spirited fish with nothing more than a stick and a piece of string!  How, I hear you cry, can soap help us with this mighty battle?  Well, the answer lies in, of all things, a “girly” little plant called anise.

The mighty fisherman’s friend, anise.

Anise has a history as medicine since ancient times.  It’s been used for coughs, epilepsy, digestive difficulties (including flatulence — the Romans seem weirdly focused on this application), and as a tonic for nursing mothers.  But one of the neatest things about anise is that, according to fisherman’s lore, fish love the stuff.  I mean, love it.  Fishermen dip lures and lines into anise oil and wash their gear and themselves with anise soap to both hide their own scent and attract the fish.  (Here’s an example report.)  And think about it — even if you’re not a fisherman, but just like to snorkel or dive, a dose of anise might help you start the party with the finny guys you’re there for.

But where to find this magical elixir?  You can buy anise extract at a grocery store and add some into a carrier oil, like cod liver.  There’s your dip for lures, hooks and lines or snorkel/scuba gear. But what about the soap?  Well, that’s right here:

Fisherman’s Magic Soap. (The shells are soap too.)

Wait, it gets better.  Part of the mojo of this soap is that unlike nearly all other soaps, it’s made of 100% coconut oil — the only soaping oil that will reliably lather in salt water.  No need to waste precious freshwater while you’re out on (or in) the bounding main, waiting for that record marlin to catch a whiff of that sexy, irresistible anise and head straight for your lines (or your camera). I’ll be taking a few of these on the next trip to St. Croix, where an excellent fishing crew, as well as dozens of beautiful snorkeling sites, await.

Fishing isn’t all soap can do for us tough guys.  Hunters have their own problems — what you’re after for dinner can usually smell you a mile away and decide to take their custom elsewhere.  (The more peaceable tough guys like birdwatchers and wildlife photographers have the same problem.) There’s a big business in scent-masking strategies and products:  everything from layering your clothes in baking soda to expensive sprays and washing powders.  But one of the oldest, and simplest, approaches for deodorizing your deadly/voyeuristic presence is —

let’s not see all the same hands —

Hunter’s Dirt Soap.  Yep, soap that smells exactly like dirt and makes you smell exactly like dirt. (Here’s a report on dirt soap.) It’s the good kind of dirt, like a garden you’re just beginning to work, or the smell of a freshly-turned field after a rain.

Hunter’s Dirt Soap.

The soap itself is a pretty simple coconut, olive and castor formula with a dollop of dirt fragrance, enough to stay on the skin and mask the fact that you’re a human with a camera, binoculars, or a pointy-edged (bow) or explosive (rifle) projectile looking for something to eat.  The camo (activated charcoal, black walnut hull powder, and ultramarine green) is just for fun.

So, say there’s some meat in the freezer now, and you need to do something with it.  For example, if you go after a wild hog and get a nice pork shoulder (or even ambush the latter at the local grocery store) smoking it might be the way to go.  There are a zillion different approaches out there for how to smoke a big solid piece of meat, but one of the consistent points of agreement is that it’s great to use a rub of some kind.  The UUH is fanatic about one in particular — a wet rub made from a mustard carrier and herbs.

In the beginning, there is a mustard/herb rubbed pork shoulder.

Giving credit where credit is due,  the original formulation of this rub comes from the Weber grill company, where they suggest using it on a beef prime rib and cooking it at a fairly high temperature on a grill.  Let me tell you, it works on pork shoulder even better than prime rib (although the prime rib is stupendous as originally written) and like a charm in a smoker as opposed to on a grill.  You won’t taste the mustard flavor after it’s done. The mustard holds the herbs and other ingredients together and forms a “bark” on the meat — the addictive flavor-bomb crunchy covering of the meltingly tender, obscenely rich roast beneath.  I’ve also found that fresh herbs, while nice, aren’t really any better flavor-wise than dried herbs as long as you’re generous, and you should use the herbs that you really like.  For example, this time  I swapped out the rosemary in the original recipe for a healthy dose of English thyme, and it worked beautifully.  So here’s my estimate on how I worked a mustard rub for a 7-8 pound pork shoulder:

  • 1/2 cup (or more, as much as you need to cover) ordinary yellow mustard
  • 1/4 cup (maybe a little less) each marjoram, basil, oregano and thyme
  • A couple tablespoons A1 Steak Sauce
  • A generous dribble of Sriracha Hot Pepper Sauce
  • Dehydrated garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper to taste

Rubs are really personal and amounts can be adjusted up, down, sideways, or abandoned altogether.  This rub is really thick with herbs, as you can see from the photo; I find that the long smoking I do mellows and evens them out.  For a roast this size,  I smoked for 10 hours at between 225-250F over peachwood until the center of the roast hit 180F.  Waiting a little longer, until the roast hits 190F or above, can make it even tenderer and absolutely perfect for pulled pork recipes.  The best thing to do, as an alchemist, is to EXPERIMENT.

It’s done — time to eat! (UUH has gnawed off one end.)

Okay, you say.  I’m partially convinced.  But you forgot one thing.

Oh, come on, nobody forgets rock and roll!

Now I’ve made a couple soaps with certain people or events in mind already.

Tracy’s Rose

 

 

There was Tracy’s Rose, a shea butter formula with a rose absolute and vetiver fragrance.

 

 

 

Monsoon Wedding

 

Then there was Monsoon Wedding, made for some friends getting married in India.  It was twice-milled for the right consistency, and needed a complex layering of scents. Everyone in my family get hunted expressions as I pursued them with my latest attempt at the “right” fragrance combination.

This last soap arises from different, and more worrying, circumstances.  A friend became very, very sick recently, and remains in the hospital.  He was one of my first soap testers and gave me terrific feedback every time I fired a new soap in his direction.  From here in California, I can’t do much for him — except make and dedicate a soap to show my thoughts and gratitude.  Now this guy has made a movie, is a hellacious rock and roll singer, and has a heart and personality as big as the universe, so I had to make something as over-the-top as he is.  And there was no holding back on the photo. The photo had to show it all.

So I’d like to introduce “Tommy’s Heavy Metal THUNDERR!” soap — hide your wives and children!

Tommy’s Heavy Metal THUNDERR!
My eyes! Good Lord, woman, what have you done?!

Because they don’t make a “cocaine, beer, cheap perfume and eau de tour bus” fragrance yet, I had to go with a really nice sandalwood.  I was worried it would detract too much from the effect — but looking at this puppy, somehow I don’t think it will.

Signing out for the night, the Tough Guy Hunting, Fishing, Rock ‘N Roll and Soap Club.

The Sea, The Sky, The Burning Moon

India sticks with me.  During the extraordinary trip in January through Goa and Kerala, I gathered such a treasurehouse of images, scents, tastes and experiences that I don’t think I will ever be able to fully assimilate them all. If you have a “Bucket List,” India should be on it. As, like, number one.

But let’s get to the point.  One of the advantages of alchemy is that you can try, at least in some small way, to bring those experiences back to immediacy — from memory into real presence.  Of course you can’t truly replicate anything; even a video or a photo won’t really explain how that breeze came through the trees right then and a glorious purple sari hung in a tiny booth shop lifted for a moment and brushed silk against your skin, or the sudden marvelous hot, rich and sweet shock of a Goan sausage as you eat it in a narrow street restaurant lined with plants clinging to an old rock wall, the chef an armslength away in a miniscule kitchen where he produces miracles.  Your mind is the only thing you have to really reproduce those experiences.  But you can do something almost as good, by cooking or writing or, like me, making soap.

“Monsoon Wedding.”

 

Now I’ve tried this before.  The first experiment (actually done before the trip) was “Monsoon Wedding.” The fragrance was the tricky part here, requiring the layering of scents of earth, spices, and flowers.

 

“Kathakali Dance.”

 

The second soap was an attempt at capturing the overwhelming sensory experience of Kathakali dance, a swirl of propulsive drumming, explosive colors, glowing light, and an absolute perfection of expression and gesture by the dancers as they told an ancient story.

 

There was another adventure I wanted to try to capture.  As part of our stay in Goa, we visited the “Queen of Beaches” — Calangute Beach, bordering the Arabian Sea.  Goa‘s been legendary since the 1960’s, first as a place for “hippie” travelers, and then as a draw for tourists from all over the globe.

Calangute Beach is one of Northern Goa’s crown jewels.  It is a wide swathe of warm, soft sand that stretches for what seems like miles, backed by a vibrant arc of restaurants, shops, and little booths selling everything from T-shirts to incense to artworks. There are couples and families everywhere. You can rent a sun chair and order drinks and food from the restaurant right behind it, to be brought to you as you lounge.  Music plays from every direction. Vendors selling scarves, jewelry, and toys wander past (I bought two worked-silver ankle bracelets; the UUH bought a really cool laser pointer that makes a stunning pattern of green stars).   And usually it looks just like the pictures you’ll see posted on everything from TripAdvisor to Lonely Planet — bright sunshine, blue sea.

But sometimes it doesn’t.  And that’s what really captured my imagination.

We went twice.  Once it did look like a calendar picture of “The Perfect Beach” — you know, the image that you use as Your Happy Place when everything around you is going to hell at lightning speed and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. The other time was a little different.  There was some cloud cover that gradually intensified, like a thick opaque silk slowly drawn along the horizon,  and the entire color of the beach, sky and sea changed.  The sky became first a blue-gray and then a cool steel gray, and the sea gradually shifted to match the sky.  It was still warm, and the breezes gentle and comforting, but we had crossed some line from blue and gold to gray and white.  It was like something had slowly, casually bled the color from a photograph while you held it in your hand.

The gray, coming in.
Calangute gray sea and sky. (Photo copyright Regina Williams.*)

The whiteness of the foam atop the steel gray waves became even sharper to the eye, because it was hard to pick out where the sea stopped and the sky began.  And the grayness stayed as the afternoon went on, the sea and sky darkening further and further, until there was one moment at twilight when the grayness thinned and the moon burst through.

It was as fiery gold as a burning coal. I have never seen anything like it before or since.  I think I stood up, involuntarily, when it tore through the darkening gray and hung above the sea like a torch.  If I’d had a drink in my hand I would have dropped it (maybe I did, it’s a little unclear right now).  And the moon stayed that way, burning and burning, as the light finally left and the sky turned to black and all you could hear was the music, thumping behind you, and the waves.

That image haunted me (in a good way) for months — the steel gray sea and sky, the brilliant white foam of the waves, and the incandescent red gold of the moon.  So I had to try.  I gathered up some olive oil, palm kernel oil flakes, shea butter and a bit of cosmetic clay for richness, and activated charcoal for the color.  And it needed a fragrance that could try to . . . explain how extraordinary this event was — an incense scent, rich with sandalwood and cedar, with hints of jasmine and clove.  For the glimmering white break of the waves, I used a pearly white mica mixed in a little of the oils and tightly swirled the top.  In the end, I had “Moon over Calangute.”

“Moon over Calangute.”

The Ganesh carving usually sits on my desk, close at hand, but it seemed right for him to be here.  Shri Ganesh is a deity of beginnings, a placer and remover of obstacles, and a patron of arts and sciences as well as writing.  I dearly hope he’s cool with alchemy.

* I found this picture at Regina Williams’ site on Virtual Tourist. I have attempted to contact her for permission to use the photograph — I didn’t have a camera with me on the day everything went gray, and her picture captured it perfectly.  I will remove it if there is any objection.