Friday, August 28, 2009

Chartreuse Eau de Vie Tisane

Licorice meets flowers in this unusual tisane that’s described as a “luxury digestive tonic”, and was inspired by the Green Chartreuse liquor. Like its namesake, this tisane is prepared as an either cold or warm cordial and has a sweet anisic flavour, which comes from the fennel and anise seeds. Combined with milky chamomile flowers, it is sure to soothe the digestive system, yet thankfully it escapes the familiar baby-colic-relief brew because of the presence of other unusual elements, most importantly French tarragon, which contributes a quirky and refreshing, slightly minty and sweet clove-like character that is a departure from the familiar licorice and anise flavour; and lemon verbena, which is invigorating and balances the richness of the licorice. To top this off, osmanthus flowers and lavender buds add a perfumed element that complements the chamomile and adds not only to its therapeutic, soothing effect but also to its rich, sweet floral bouquet.

Chartreuse Eau de Vie tisane is available directly from Inner Alchemy Tea Co. in Vancouver (604) 731-1529 and is also sold in select Farmers’ Markets around Vancouver during the Spring, Summer and Fall. It costs $16 for a 2oz tin.

P.s. Like most antique liquors, Chartreuse liquor originated in a form of a medicinal concoction created by monks in a monastery of the same name. This one came from France, and for centuries is prepared by monks of the Carthusian Order who to his day are the only ones who know its secret recipe. Its origins are dated as far back as 1605, and its secret formula containing some 130 herbal extracts withstood many historical challenges including several expulsions of the monks from their monastery, restrictions from the French government, and the ruin of the distillery itself.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Vintage, originally uploaded by hautechamp.

Notorious: Hitchock’s Film Noir classic and now also a fragrance from Ralph Lauren. How or why would the two be connected is beyond me. But perhaps my prejudice regarding this American fashion house put it in a box titled “tennis and polo outfits” and completely forgot about the vintage sport of Nazi hunting. What better time for designing wardrobe for this rare excursion, now that the supply of these unique villains is dwindling down?

In a weak moment of shopping therapy after some unpleasant beurocratic ordeal, I was intrigued by what a few months ago, at first sniff smelled uneventful from a now forgotten sample vial. But on that particular afternoon, on the black scent-card at The Bay it smelled like chocolate, cinnamon and atop patchouli and some modern musks; in other words – exactly what I needed to get back at my beurocratic villains and show them who’s in charge. On the skin it smells a bit like Narciso Rodriguze for Her, but not as floral and not as musky either. In the department store context it smelled unique, distinct and a little quirky, like the dirty heiress of Pure Turquoise which disappeared from the shelf without notice. At home it smells nondescript, like the beauty and cosmetics level of the department store where it came from. The cinnamon and cocoa mystery is barely there on the skin, and like most contemporary designer releases it wears a little better on fabric. Expect none of the intrigue, danger or post World War II Nazi-hunting paranoia in the film that supposedly inspired this jus.

According to Basenotes, the connection might have more to do with model licensing and the re-make of Notorioius starring model/actress Laetitia Casta the notes are:

Top notes: Black currant, Pink peppercorn, Bergamot
Heart notes: Chocolate Cosmos, White Frost Peonies, Carnation
Base notes: Patchouli, Musk, Vanilla, Iris

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Joyful Candle: Royal Couple

Tofino was stormy: rainy, misty, cloudy, wavy... One of the things that sweetened the nights when I stayed there was this beautiful travel candle, which is simply scented with only two notes: Indian jasmine and Bulgarian rose.

Rose is the queen and jasmine the king, and when they are together they really need nothing else! This candle was such a joy to burn, and even after extinguishing the flame, the cooled down wax scented the room with its sensual perfume. Rose and jasmine together are truly divine - and the name suits the candle to a tee. It's gentle as to not overwhelm the senses but tenacious enough to scent the entire room. Yet another winner from Gabriel's Aunt - and one of the newest scents in her Just for Fun collection. This scent is also offered in a bath-tea (the rose petals above, soaked in jasmine absolute), bath salts and a solid perfume.

Finding a candle of that quality, not to mention an all-natural scented floral candle, is a real treat: it's authentic and beautiful. The candle artists was generous with the amount of essences she uses, and picky about the quality, and it shows in every hour of burning this candle.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, August 10, 2009


I'm in Tofino, enjoying a stormy Pacific coast weather and the beautiful scenery and oceanic smells such as clean, fresh breeze mixed with whales' spray, giant Humboldt squid and seal carcasses washed ashore and the fumes of smoked salmon.

But aside from the pristine water and salty sea spray, fog horns sounding in the background 24 hours a day, there is also some amazing local food to explore that is inspiring and sensational like a perfume, to be found at the Pointe restaurant of Wikanninish Inn. For example - endive and seasonal fruit and berry salad with cubes of lavender-buttermilk pannacotta, or desserts such as chocolate-basil cake, olive oil cake with poached plum, plum sorbet and chocolate, and a ritualistic sequence of iced coconut souffle, parsnip sorbet and a shot of Earl Gray soda. Quite unbelievable really.

Will be back into the faster paced civilization away from the whales on Wednesday.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Field Notes from Paris

Come late September, Ineke in San Francisco is due to launch her next fragrance in her alphabetical fragrant anthology, Field Notes from Paris.

Ineke Ruhland, the perfumer and founder of Ineke Perfumes has studied and worked in France before establishing her independent perfumery in San Francisco. Her "F" installation in her alphabetical perfume collection is nostaligic nod to her days of studying in Versailles and living in Paris. Those who visited the city know that every cafe smells not just of coffee but also of tobacco smoke of all sorts. The notes Ineke used in this perfume to capture the mood of sitting in a Parisian cafe in the afternoon are:

Top notes:
Coriander seed, Orange Flower, Bergamot

Heart notes:
Tobacco Flower & Leaf, Patchouli, Cedar

Base notes:
Tonka Bean, Leather, Beeswax, Vanilla

If you are curious about smelling it - you may be pleased to hear that all purchasers of the current Deluxe Sample Collection Volume 2 from Ineke's website will automatically receive a sample of Field Notes from Paris when it is available. Also, one of the first bottles of Field Notes from Paris will be part of a drawing at Takashimaya during Fashions Night Out on September 10th.

More later closer to the launch.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, August 07, 2009

Coffee Please

Coffee Time, originally uploaded by Nuran's.
My morning started with coffee, which is unusual. I walked up to the barrista at Blenz on Robson and asked for 400gr ground coffee, with the highest caffeine content. She looked at me puzzled (I usually order tea, and when I do order a coffee, it's always decaf). As it turns out, coffee that is light or medium roast has more caffeine, something I never knew (or cared to know) before. I got an organic, fair trade medium roast from Machu-Pichu, which smelled and tasted deliciously of moccha, and took off.

I totally lucked out with my very first trial of Guilt sugar scrubs, I think I nearly nailed it down in the first try. Which is not the case with my other "victim" - the Finjan Sugar Scrub, where coffee is used for its cellulite-busting caffeine, along with grapefruit essential oil.

On my first trial (done about a year or so ago) I used real Turkish coffee which already had some cardamom in it. It smelled delicious, looked like the muddy bottom of a Turkish coffee demitasse ready to be read you the future, and it had this wonderful cocoa butter, shea butter and virgin coconut oil in it. Unfortunately, it did not work: the butter solidified and formed crystals on the top of the jar (kind of like the white stuff you see on old chocolate bars), which of course wouldn't matter once you scoop out your scrubbing dosage. But therein lay the bigger problem: Turkish coffee, while it smells fabulous, is ground quite finely. It becomes into a sticky fine paste that refuses to leave the skin even if scrubbed with loofah, completely defeating the purpose of its presence in a sugar scrub. And this is why I got the coarsely ground medium roasted full of caffeine beans from Machu-Pichu.

But my new sugar scrub encountered other problems beside the coffee grounds: this time around, I became a little too adventurous and rather than sticking to my modified formula from last time, I decided to add a little bit of this (honey) and a little bit of that (Turkey red oil) and ended up with something that was a little too liquidy and swallowed all the fragrance of the precious oils I've added in there - Rose Maroc, jasmine from India, cardamom CO2, orange and grapefruit oils. I finally was able to adjust the consistency by adding more sugar, and getting the fragrance right by using rose geranium. I now know that I should forego the Rose Maroc next time (it just gets lost in the coffee!). And also I should use a lot less Turkey red oil, and in any case, I suspect the one I have is a little too old, so it's time to buy new supply! But I'm on the right track, and pretty close to figuring out the desired consistency, as this sugar scrub really left my skin feeling softer, though I suspect the Turkey red oil is a little too drying (all the more reason to use less).

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Good Enough to Eat

I'm often asked, if and when or why don't I have my own line of scented body products. My answer to this 3-part question is that I would love to create an original line of my very own beautifully scented natural body care. Which means, I would like to have my very own formulations rather than take some existing bases and add a scent to them. This is not advisable from technical point of view, not to mention marketing wise: each scent has a different chemical make up, therefore it is hard to predict how it will interact with a given base or the other. Often times, when a fragrance is added to, say, an existing unscented body lotion "base" - the lotion simply breaks down. Not a pretty site, but also not something you would want to put on your skin.

There are many technical difficulties, challenges and problems when developing a new skin care line: the texture, fragrance and performance of the product (i.e.: how does it make your skin feel after), not to mention packaging. Unlike my existing products, which I assume most of my customers use when their hands are clean and fairly dry - one could not expect such handling of a body products that will be most likely stored and used in the bathroom - or even the bathtub or shower! I won't bore you with the details of what it takes to develop the line from start to finish, but I will let you in on some of my recent experiments of very simple body care products that are all natural, free of preservatives, that will make your skin feel good and smell fantastic.

I've already begun my adventure with the bath salts for Mother's Day which require a very simple procedure of blending essential oils with a salt-mix. The next step for me was to figure out a formula for a sugar scrub that will be as fun to use as some of my favourite body products. I love sugar scrubs, and especially the more luxurious ones, because they do two tasks at once: the exfoliate my skin while leaving it gently moisturized. A good sugar scrub, in my opinion, needn't be followed by a body lotion or a cream. It should be the kind that will emulsify with the bathing water and leave the skin soft and smooth...

A while back, I created a body-butter consistency sugar scrub. The challenge with that was that it left the skin a little too greasy, plus the butters and some of the oils (i.e.: coconut oil) harden too much in cooler weather. So my task today was to make a sugar scrub that will look pretty much the same in most room temperature ranges.

My first trial was one based on Guilt perfume, which I've been meaning to make for a loooong time. The concept was to use ground up cacao nibs as an additional exfolliant besides the sugar. Although I was tempted to use cacao butter, I decided to opt for something more stable: shea oil, which is liquid rather than solid in room temperature. Along with vegetable glycerine, fractionated coconut oil and vitamin E it's bound to leave behind a silky-smooth skin. The ground cacao nibs add a nice texture and an earthy, irresistible yummy chocolate smell, which I only enforced with very little bit of cacao and vanilla absolute. It also has sweet orange and wild orange oils, and of course - orange flower absolute. Using the scrub in the bath was a real treat: it's like playing with mud but not really getting dirty beacuse it is so easy to wash off (it would have been a totally different story if I put cacao powder instead of the nibs!). And it makes the skin look all dark and tan or for the duration of the scrubbing ceremony, which I thoroughly enjoy myself. Yet the nicest surprise was that the orange blossom lingered on the skin for about an hour after bathing!

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Sephora in Vancouver

New Sephora, originally uploaded by Elsbro.

New Sephora, originally uploaded by Elsbro.

The long-awaited Sephora launch in downtown Vancouver brought a few good things to the city: in anticipation for the arrival of a new competitor, Holt Renfrew added Holtscents – an expanded fragrance division with many niche brands, including Editions de Parfums, Miller Harris, Bon No. 9, Juliette Has A Gun, Miller et Bertaux, Ineke, and several others. Some vanished after a while due to lack of demand (By Killian and Etat Libre d’Orange) but we can only hope the others will stick around and keep our dull Vancouver life interesting. Shoppers Drug Mart took a similar approach and expanded their fragrance and cosmetics tremendously – carrying brands that used to be only found in luxe department stores – Prada, Guerlain, Clinique, BeneFit Cosmetics, Comptoir Sud Pacifique and others.

And now the cat is out of the bag and Sephora is open for about a month. Vancouverite teenagers and girls in their early 20’s seem to not have gotten enough of it yet. I was there for the first time exactly on Jly 17th, exactly one week after the opening (July 10th)
around 2pm on a Friday, taking a detour on the way to pick up printed labeling for the Tropical Flower & Spice Limited Editions for the tea party that weekend.

It was a very hot day and I sought refuge in the mall’s lavishly air-conditioned space. The first thing that crossed my mind was: don’t anyone have a job anymore? Because clearly, everyone and their two girlfriends seemed to be at Sephora trying out new makeup. The downside was that the store was packed to say the least ( but that was nothing comparing to the opening day which I promptly skipped, being the crowd-avoider expert that I am). Apparently 7,452 is not enough to host all of Vancouver’s beauty junkies. The up side, of course, was that I was able to roam freely in the shop without anyone offering to “help” and asking me boring questions about my fragrance preferences.

I scouted everything that is new and unusual and can’t be found anywhere else in the city, and as far as fragrance goes I was not quite blown away. There was the Tweety bird perfume, with a promptly yellow atomizer bulb that turns the otherwise classy vintage-style perfume spritzing into a deja-vu squawking a rubber-duck in the bath-tub when you had to babysit your little siblings (by which point, commenting about the scent seems futile). On the other hand – I spotted some rather fantastic size for Fracas – a 7.5ml roll-on which if only for the long line ups would have landed in my purse later that afternoon.

Scent-wise, my sniffer was impressed with several things: Cannabis Santal – a strange mélange of woods, patchouli and chocolate that is not in the least as doobie as the name implies; rather, it reminded me of a cross between an Hermes masculine (Either Vetiver Tonka, Poivre Samarkand or Terre d’Hermes) with an overdoes of chocolate. I also found Cannabis Rose, which I had to try because one of my classmates in Grasse raved about it and it was created by a young perfumer at Robertet. Cannabis Rose smelled like the new generation of Chypre – with patchouli, vetiver and musk as the base and a warm and clean rose heart – but not quite spicy or rosy. I tried the body cream of that and it was overbearing though and will have to try it on skin at a later time. As an aside - Fresh can be found both at Holt Renfrew and Beautymark but neither of them carry the entire line, and neither of these two scents, to the best of my knowledge.

And last but not least – it was a very nice surprise to find Demeter Vintage Naturals 2009 limited edition collection of 5 soliflores that are all-naturals: Lavender, Rosebush, Patchouli, Geranium and Mimosa. The latter captured my attention immediately. Geranium has been my obsession in the past year or so, and it was refreshing to see it treated as the main theme. This geranium is extremely leafy and fresh. It starts herbaceous and minty and dries down into a more earthy base, and geranium is always at the forefront – no surprises there. Mimosa opens with a dominant mimosa absolute note, which is a top note so it does not stick around for too long. Than it morphs into a complex, rich white florals – with ylang ylang, jasmine and powdery tonka bean whispering sweet nothings in your ears till you are completely seduced. It has an incredible lasting power. I am yet to try the other three but so far I have to say I’m very impressed with this mass-produced natural perfume, and the price is very reasonable at $75 a pop (50ml EDP spray).

And the other evening, I stepped in again, and although the store was not as busy as before, the lineups were intimidating. For the first time I got noticed by a sales rep which I gently refused. Fortunately, I had Tamya with me so I got to try the Geranium and the Mimosa again and also tried Fresh’s “Strawberry” (so not!) on Tamya’s one wrist, and BeneFit’s whimsically martini-shaker packaged “Something About Sofia” from their new Crescent Row collection (lilies and some fresh tart fruit – perhaps apple and lychee?) on the other. Incidentally, "Something About Sofia" was what was suggested to me after completing BeneFit's quiz. Also, if they had a quiz to find out how much of a sucker for a cute bottle you are I would probably lead with at least 99% and buy the bottle on the spot. As it turned out, I was impressed by neither but I learned a new shopping tip: take your kids with you and use them as living scent strips. It would save you money.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Persian Silk Tree

This unusual mimosa-like tree on the corner of Haro & Broughton street is in full bloom again. I haven't had a chance to blog about it last year, when its intoxicating and beautiful mimosa scent took me by surprise. I looked up and saw a tree covered with pompoms of pink and yellow acacia stamens. It's very fragrant, with a scent reminiscent of mimosa, honey, wood, pollen in the wind in the heat of Provence, and is very perfumey.

The name of the tree is Albizia julibrissin, and it's also called Persian Silk Tree. It's native to Asia (Iran, East China and Korea) and is from the Albizia family, which is a legume related to mimosa and acacia.


Must Read: Blurring Boundaries

Read Sophie Maxwell's interesting article "Blurring Boundaries" about synesthesia in art and creative marketing where scent can be seen, flavours and liquors are inhaled for their delicious or intoxicating effect, and there's even a scratch 'n sniff cinema...

Which makes me wonder: Are we so underwhelmed by our sensory world now that we need to reach new levels of excitement or explore new "senses" to truly enjoy anything?

Labels: , ,

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Tea in Gastown

I dropped by the new experimental Gastown Farmers' Market this morning. This market is a first in this neighborhood, which has very few grocery stores. So I hope it goes well and continues to happen throughout the summer – because if the starving artists in the lofts who live there have some food money to spend, they better get something local, freshly picker and/or organically grown.

And like any Farmers’ Markets, there is more than just fresh produce (even though that on its own is pretty darn exciting if you ask me!). There are some bakers and hand made soaps and cosmetics

We have a Farmers’ Market in the West End, just a few blocks away by Nelson Park every Saturday. But the purpose for my visit to the Gastown one was to pick up more Moonbeam Glory tea from Inner Alchemy's tent. From there the plan was to continue on to Powell Street Festival (the Japanese-Canadian cultural celebration that happens every year on the BC Day weekend).

Dawna's display was as lovely as could be, simple and elegant. And of course there is nothing better than hearing from her in person what is in each tea, how it tastes when warm or chilled, and see the passion and the glint in her eye as she tells the tale of each tea blend.

I also picked another favourite: Verdant Jewel, which I'm sipping now as I write this: a gorgeous melange of green tea and silver needle white teas with just a hint of refreshing mint leaves and crystalized ginger. It makes a stunning chilled tea and is a good, interesting substitute to more traditional green teas.

I also decided to be adventurous and buy to new teas that I've never tasted before: Little Star, which is a Puerh with hand-picked Chrysanthemum flowers; and Chartreuse Eau de Vie, an aperitif/digestive tea or cordial with French tarragon, fennel, chamomile and osmanthus. I am still waiting for my friend Tina who is a die-hard Chrysanthemum lover to try Little Star. But I have brewed the Chartreuse Eau de Vie several times since the market and will tell you more about its licorice-floral wonders on a separate post.

There were other artisans and vendors in the market that caught my eye, including this French Clay and Vetivert soap from Royal Herbs. They sell several other soaps and herbal preparations (i.e.: infused oils and various cosmetics and lotions) as well as some essential oils and synergies. But this grabbed my attention immediately because I’m suck a sucker for anything with vetiver, and recently I’ve been trying various vetiver soaps. This hand made soap bar smelled so nice and simple. The soap is a little sofat and has a nice rich lather, is not drying at all, and the best of all – has an incredibly nutty vetiver aroma, all natural.

And last but not least: Say See Bon Pattisserie, which makes the only macarons worth eating in Vancouver. The chocolate ones were served at my Tropical Tea Party. I tried Charlene’s matcha macarons this time, which she said have a new recipe for the filling, incorporating a white chocolate ganache. They were fantastic! I like them just as much as the chocolate – they are both perfect in flavour and texture, which is very challenging to achieve with French macarons.

And speaking of green tea - after that we went to the Powell Street Festival finding refuge from the heat in the shade and enjoying some summery Japanese street food, such as this shaved ice with green tea and azuki beans. It does not come with a cherry on the top - that was just part of the picnic I picked up at the farmers' market.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Woman in Ruanda, originally uploaded by cookiesound.

Woman in Ruanda, originally uploaded by cookiesound.

Once upon a time, my mother and I were nomads. My mother just sold her house in Jerusalem and was about to move into the little hut that my stepfather was building for us in the Galilee, so that we can all live closer to nature and eat organic vegetables that we sweat on growing in the garden. Until the little hut was ready, my mother and I lived with various friends and family members. It is very probably that we only stayed there for a few days, but I was left with the impression that we lived in all those different places. Little girls’ memories are not the most reliable thing in the world, but I sure did sense the temporary nature of these living arrangement.
And so we “lived” in different cities, including Tiberias near the Sea of Galilee, and in Bat-Yam, near Tel-Aviv, to stay with my step-grandparents. They had a cottage with a garden, one of the very few that were left from the days when Bat Yam was all just little houses with gardens and everyone could leave their house without locking the doors and never worry about theft. And in their house, they had a collection of my stepfather’s paintings. One of the painting always puzzled me, so I spent hours staring at it: a young African woman balancing a cluster of bananas on her head. Since they covered her hair completely, they seemed like a strange hairdo and if it wasn’t for my parent’s conversation, I would have never thought about the weight of the bananas on the girl’s tender neck.

These were days of summer, and my mother and grandmother took me to the beach every single day. At least this is what I can remember. Every day, I wore my banana-yellow velour swimsuit that my great-grandpa from LA brought me on one of his rare visits. And I always hoped that my mother would get me a banana ice-cream bar. It must have been the new big thing, because until than the only flavours were vanilla or chocolate. All were dipped in a thin imitation chocolate coating that crackles under your teeth and slide off the bar as it melted. It was a lot of fun to eat it, and if you every go to Israel, look for it – those very same ice cream bar, same flavour and probably the same recipes, have survived the test of time despite the great variety and competition in the frozen snack kingdom at this part of the world. It’s quite astonishing, actually.

But will Vanille-Banane, from Comptoir Sud Pacifique survive such test? No one could tell. I have to agree with Ishai, a rare case of a male perfume aficionado who lives in Israel – that all of the “Vanille”-something share the following characteristics:
1) Whatever is the second part of the name (i.e.: NOT the “Vanille”) will appear first when applying the scent
2) Whatever is the second part of the name will stick around for a few seconds or perhaps minutes (if you are so lucky)
3) They all dry down to vanilla (I can also smell musk in all or most of them) and that’s the end of the story.

Vanille-Banane is no exception, and begins with the promising mouthwateringly delicious fake banana flavour that makes you want more. And the moment you start salivating and licking that ice cream bar, the fickle structure of cream and sugar suffers a melt-down and slides off the stick, leaving you with just that: a popsicle stick soaked in artificial vanilla flavour. Yum.

Whatever other notes might be there - cardamom, condensed milk or what not, are far less apparent than they are in a banana bread. But even a simple scent like that has its charm: it really goes well with anything to do with suntan oil and cheap beach desserts. I like it a lot with my Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen or sunblock, which smells like pina-colada and banana to begin with...

Labels: , ,

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Making Incense Cones

Yesterday I tried to make incense cones for the first time. It was fun and exciting but I can't say I've neither mastered the technique of shaping the cones and determining their size, nor did I nail down the formula for what I envisioned for my first cone incense.

Just for fun, I'm sharing here photos of the process and the materials.

The ingredients: dry woods (i.e.: sandalwood, agarwood, cedarwood), leaves (patchouli) berries (juniper) roots (vetiver) and mix them with makko powder or another combustible binding agent that allows for thorough, even burning incense and also binds all the materials together.

Mix the ingredients thoroughly together, and add water or hydrosol to bind the ingredients together and allow for shaping the incense.

Kneading the incense mixture into a paste that will be shaped into cones, sticks, spirals, etc. Sticks are pressed out of a machine (kind of like noodles in a factory), while cones are hand shaped. Joss sticks are made differently - the paste is rolled onto a thin wooden or bamboo stick.

Shaping the cone is done by hands alone.

The cones lay flat on a tray to dry. This can be done outdoors in the sun as well (but make sure the incense does not get dew on it or wet if it rains!).

The incense may take up to a week to dry. It's been very hot and dry here last night so I was able to have a preliminary testing for this cone today. The bottom and centre was not dry enough so it did not burn all the way down.

Labels: , , , , , , ,