Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of 2009

Oh, what a year! It was definitely a good year for perfumery, with many new perfumes that are worth writing about. 2009 was also an overwhelmingly busy year for me in every possible way - both professionally and personally. A lot of work, a lot of travel and a lot of change. I can't say that I had a chance to test even a minuscule amount of the many fragrances that came out this year. The opposite problem from last year, when I had to scrape the bottom of my memory to put together a list...

Favourite New Perfume:
Si Lolita. I enjoy every sweet pea and spice moment it has to offer. I think I will be running out of this one about as fast as I did with L from the same house. The elemi note in here is so wonderful!

Funnest packaging:
Si Lolita. Excuse my repetition but it’s true. The bottle is whimsical,

Best Sequel of the Year:

I was intentionally ignoring those, so no comments this year. I find it disconcerting that the Harajuku Lovers Snow Bunnies smell the same but have different outfits. I think that’s outrageous.

The Classic Discovery of the Year:
Eau d’Hermes. With its sultry, slightly salty culinary cumin and lemon on top of immortelle and jasmine this scent refreshingly unique and timeless.

Favourite New Niche Perfume of the Year:
Emotionelle by Michel Roudnitska, has a gorgeous melon or rather cantaloupe note paired with sultry jasmine and sensual violets. It’s hard to believe these will get along, but they sure do. And the result is magical, a little disturbing, like striking the right chord in the right time. It reminds me of the warm sun settling in the west after a hot spring day in Southern France.

I also really enjoyed Champaca Absolute, even though I find it a tad too artificial to my taste. But it certainly made 2009 more bright and cheerful.

And than of course there’s also Manoumalia, which won my heart long ago when the year has just began…

Note of the year:
Cantaloupe. It keeps attacking me from every possible direction, and every time I fall in love with it again. I’m yet to post a full blog about it and why this all happened, but it has a lot to do with my visit to Grasse in May.
The other note I paid more attention to this year which I also work with is tobacco. I love it and am glad to find more layers to it than I have before – both when formulating with it and when experiencing it in perfumes. I enjoyed a few tobacco scents this year - Gabriel's Aunt Bohem candle, Tabac Aurea by Sonoma Scent Studio and Field Notes from Paris by Ineke.

The Surprise of the Year:
Hermèssence Vanille Galante. Who would have thought that a scent with such a name will smell like lilies, cantaloupe and salted caramel?! I thoroughly love it.

The Re-Discovery of the Year:
I absolutely love Bois des Iles. I worn it a lot this year, and it is more versatile than I imagined.

This Year's Change-of-Heart:
Clary sage. I used to not be able to stand this note and now, after shaking hands with it in person in Grasse, France I noticed its similarity to bergamot and tea, I am truly enjoying smelling it on its own and working it into some of my compositions.

Ambivalent Entries:
This year there are a few new scents I can't decide how I feel about - I swing from loving them to feeling ambivalent or disappointed.

Sweet Lime & Cedar Smells either exotically fresh and invigorating with the kaffir lime, coconut and cedar; or too artificial, tame and Westernized with the gardenia and musk taking over, as if shutting the kaffir lime notes so they don't get too weird.

Private Collection Jasmine White Moss first smelled amazing, like an old classic expansive fresh-chypre; but than smelled too flat and synthetic. A few more wearing will seal my final verdict.

A Scent by Issey Miyake is a little odd, and has something special about it. It is how I would imagine a tea garden to smell at the top of a mountain. But than it also smells quite sharp, too sharp; or other times it feels too floral and perfumey... I still can't decide if I like it or not. And I feel the same way about the bottle - it's clean-cut but also a little too cold and crude.

Celebrity Fragrance Release:
I was conveniently ignoring those most of the year. But I did enjoy Sarah Jessica Parker’s Twilight. An ambery floral, with an incense and frangipani feel to it. It’s warm and diffusive and a little too synthetic to my taste. Yet I wish it was launched on its own to get more attention rather than along with those two generic meh scents it was surrounded with (and probably were a lot more popular too).

Favourite New Natural Perfume:
Scent Systems’ Oeillet was launched in 2006. But I didn’t try it till this year, so to me it’s completely new. I’m mentnioning it here because I think it’s one of the most stunning natural perfumes that can be found in the world today. Dusky, salty and sensuous in a surprising way and nothing like what you’d expect from a scent that has the name carnation all over it.

I also quite enjoyed Demeter's Vintage Naturals, even though none was extremely surprising or original they were all well-done. My picks would be Vintage Naturals Mimosa, which is more of a white floral; and Vintage Naturals Geranium.

Favourite New Perfume for Men:
Field Notes from Paris by Ineke, although it is just as gorgeous on a woman (I love wearing it myself) is the best new scent that men can enjoy from this year releases.

The Ugly Duckling of the Year:
Cannabis Rose by Fresh. It's not as pretty as its sisters from the same genre (Narciso Rodriguez for Her or Lovely), but it has an edge to it. It's interesting and it's more patchouli than rose.

The Disappointment(s) of the Year:
Coming back from Paris only to discover that my Sous la Vent bottle cracked… Thankfully, I was able to save the jus.

As far as perfume releases go, I was disappointed of
Narcisso Rodriguez’ Essence, which comes in a disturbingly intriguing bottle but smells like an old aldehydic fragrance that was stuck on the shelves for too long.

Also, Nuit de Cellophane turned out to smell like shampoo, rather than osmanthus. But my Japanese friends told me that osmanthus in bloom smells kind-of artificial actually… Yet in a most beautiful way. I am yet to discover this for myself.

Favourite Scented Body Product:
J.R. Watkins Lemon Cream smells like lemon wafers and is rich and smooth yet fast absorbing. The shea butter gives it a heavenly quality. And did I mention that the scent is just to die for?
I’m also still smitten with the summery Terracotta Eau Sous La Vent
And last but not least - Velvet & Sweetpea's Tuberose & Gardenia Whipped Body Frosting, hand-whipped by Laurie Stern herself.

Best Organic Skin-Care Line:
New Zealand based Carol Priest creates hand-made organic skin care that has the right consistency, texture and scent. I’m particularly enamoured with a few of them. The lavender and active manuka honey facial cleanser leaves the skin soft and seems to melt away make up residues. The rosehip and vitamin E regenerative night cream is rich but easily absorbed into the skin and although it does not seem to have an impressive scent from the jar, it turns into a wonderful Melissa (lemon balm) scent once applied to the face, which helps me fall asleep… The jasmine floral tonic water spray is cheerfully refreshing, and the marshmallow root day cream
which smells beautifully of jasmine as well. The line is free of parabens and synthetic chemicals, and mostly seems to be scented with pure essential oils only (I’m a little confused about a couple of the products which indicate “fragrance” as an ingredient – the rose body lotion is one example).

Favourite Scented Candle:

I’m partial to my own candle line (Bois d’Hiver in the winter time and ArbitRary in the summer time). This year, Gabriel’s Aunt Lemon Bar by Gabriel’s Aunt (who also hand-pours my own candles) captured my attention and satisfied my eternal craving for buttery lemon wafers (here we go again!).

Promising new line:
Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Scents I wish I tried but haven’t yet:
Two new agarwood fragrances: Aoud Leather by Montale and Soivohle’s all-natural Oudh Lacquer (and a few others by Liz Zorn). The list goes on with Ormonde Jayne's Tiare and Andy Tauer's Un Rose Chyprée.

Most Fabulous Fragrant Moment this Year:

Sitting among the roses awaiting distillation in the rose fields' extraction plant in Grasse, France.

Most worn this year:

Bois des Iles
Le Parfum de Therese
Si Lolita
Un Jardin Apres la Mousson
Aveda Key Element Fire No. 3
And my own Hanami and Les Nuages de Joie Jaune in the spring, and Espionage and Ayalitta in the fall.

Read the best of the best for 2009 lists of other participating blogs:

Perfume Shrine

Mossy Loomings


Bittergrace Notes


Scent Hive

Eiderdown Press Journal


Roxana’s Illuminated Journal

A Rose Beyond the Thames

The Non Blonde

Notes from the Ledge

Under the Cupola

All I am a Redhead

Perfume In Progress

Savvy Thinker

I Smell Therefore I Am

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Monday, December 28, 2009

OpenSky Project

Trish Vawter of ScentHive has curated a number of natural and organic products on her OpenSky Project webstore, including Espionage, Fête d'Hiver and White Potion.
Thank you to Trish and the OpenSky Project team!

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Plum Pudding with Cumin

Fleur d'immortelle, originally uploaded by mistercham.

On Christmas day, one of the two bottles of Eau d'Hermes that lived on the shelf at the downtown Vancouver Hermes boutique made it into where it belongs – my perfume collection. My boyfriend, who finally realized this year that my wish lists are created while browsing perfume boutiques, made a mental note and got it for me as a Christmas gift quite some time ago, all the while pretending to read my very old wish list I made for him last year (which he completely ignored, by the way). Of course that would have been useless – because that list is no longer valid (except that I am always happy to have fresh freesia flowers in my home, which I usually get myself any way).

Anyway, I have been watching the shelf for months now (since the summer, to be precise - shortly after my return from France) and have been trying it ever since. Back than, it smelled more masculine and fresh to me. While the freshness is apparent even now in the winter, it reminds me of preparing the last bits and pieces of a wintery Friday dinners with my family: squeezing lemon juice and getting the lemon oil (fresh from the tree) rub onto the fingers; and dousing the beet salad and the customary tahini dip with the tart lemon juice and fragrant cumin.

What is it about Eau d’Hermes that makes it so magical? Perhaps it’s its versatility and adaptable formula. It never feels over the top. It never really feels like perfume, come to think of it. And it blends with its surrounding in the most curious of ways.

Following the savoury-culinary opening, Eau d’Hermes turns into a completely different beast: more daring and sensual than it was in the summer, with the jasmine far more pronounced yet with some sweet-ambery and powdery violet-like nuances that I have never noticed before (come to think of it, there was a moment when I was reminded of Michel Roudnitska’s Eau Emotionelle!); and having been accompanied by it since Christmas day, I can assure you it goes well with its surrounding in the winter as well as the summer: it goes well with roasted Turkey (not that I at any) and cranberry sauce, with buttered Brussels sprouts and baked yam, and with rich chocolates, shortbread or the legendary flaming plum pudding. It really does. And it smelled sexy and elegant all the while, making anything that I did or experienced feel like it was truly mine and truly special. Like a silent reminder that my rustic upbringing is what makes every part of my life today so much more elegant and real.

Whoo-Hoo, Christmas Pudding, originally uploaded by John in Mich.

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Green cleaning is a beautiful thing!
Yes, cleaning can be a tough chore too, but it does make one feel better about themselves and their home and is totally worth the effort. And even more so when using products that are environmentally friendly and make your home smell nice.

Sapadilla is a relatively young eco-friendly house-cleaning products company, founded by a young couple, Jill & Steve, who live and work in North Vancouver, BC.

A couple of years ago, they have approached me to re-formulate their two scents, Rosemary + Peppermint and Grapefruit + Bergamot. The results are finally out in the shops and boutiques carrying the line!

The new packaging looks different - it comes in a glossy plastic and the silhouette is a little different too (see picture). The scents are different too (I'm pleased to say that they are much better tan before) although they retained the original concept. The old packaging (and scents) may be still in stores (they come in a matte plastic bottles, and have different ingredients). The new ingredient lists will include the following essential oils:

The new Rosemary + Peppermint is a little like candy-cane and includes peppermint, rosemary, cloves and orange. It gives a very clean aroma to anything it touches. I like it especially in the kitchen, where it can cut through the cooking smells and the grease when washing the dishes or the oven.
The new Grapefruit + Bergamot is mouthwatering delicious lemony citrus and includes litsea cubeba, lemon, orange, bergamot and grapefruit. It really makes me feel happy to clean so I use it everywhere else in the house :-)

Sapadilla currently offers 3 household cleaning products:
Counter-top spray, which helps to disinfect and clean surfaces such as counters, tables, desks, etc.
Dish soap detergent - to wash you dishes by hand.
All-purpose cleaner concentrate - which can be diluted in water or for removing tough stains in the kitchen or bathroom. You can also dilute it in water to refill the spray bottle once it's ran out and have more counter-top spray.

Where to find:

Whole Foods

1053 Davie Street
Tel. 604-682-2204)

377 Howe Street
Tel. 604-662-4918

1548 West Broadway
Tel. 604-731-1148

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Have yourself a Gwen Stephanie Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone!
Hope this season and the upcoming new year brings you joy, peace, happiness and health.
This is a glimpse of my Hanukkah bush/Christmas tree, decorated with perfume bottles (mostly Harajuku Lovers dolls, but also some more classy perfumes contained in orb-shaped bottles like Parfum Sacre, Lovely and Femme).

Here's a wider view:
P.s. Today I received the very first perfume as a Christmas gift: Eau d'Hermes from my boyfriend. It was very sneaky of him and it made me very happy! And it goes without saying: that's what I'm wearing today.



This season seems to offer no foreseeable end to chaos. Tasks pile on top of each other, rarely able to be resolved. I am seeking a moment of quiet for reflection or creation or even just a little bit of nothing to do. But it's been a while since I found myself confronting any kind of a blank slate.
My studio is amidst a whirlwind of events that sweep it from one direction to the other: packages coming in and out; vats that have to be filled only to be emptied into flacons.
I was really hoping that this season will bring me some time to re-organize everything: my bottles, my blog, inventory control, my books (end of tax year coming in a few days). Perhaps after Christmas I will have a few days to do that and start the new year fresh.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Truffles

Freshly-made seasonal holiday-flavoure truffles are awaiting to be picked up as gifts and treats for the holiday season. I made the following flavours - none of which are listed on my website, but they can be picked up from the studio:

Candy Cane - dark 70% cocoa with peppermint and vodka

Epice Sauvage - milk chocolate with scotch, orange blossom, sweet & blood orange and a spice-blend (cinnamon, cardamom and ginger)

Gin & Rose - dark chocolate with Hendricks gin, juniper berry and organic rose otto

Packaged in gift bags (6 truffles for $10) or gift boxes (8 truffles for $15).
Larger batches can be made on demand for your holiday dinner or for New Year's Eve celebrations.


Simply Said

Simply Said blog mentions Lime & Cacao one of a kind perfume.

Purple Dress Giveaway on Chic Galleria

Chic Galleria is holding a giveway of one mini bottle of The Purple Dress perfume. To enter the draw, simply leave a comment here.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ayala Moriel's Perfume Pendant Featured on

Beautiful things come in small packages, and Michelyn Camen chose to feature Ayala Moriel's mother-of-pearl perfume pendant with Cabaret solid perfume in her piece for


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

EcoChic Interviews Portobello West

Eco Chic International interviews Portobello West founder Carlie Smith and several artists and designers who talk about their sustainable eco-friendly products and business practices.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Coconut Oils

Coconut (Cocos nucifera) oil is extracted from the meat of coconut and is solid even at room temperature (its melting point is 76°F (24°C). When liquid, it is a clear, transparent oil. When solid, it is white as snow and has a buttery yet slightly grainy texture. It also has a high smoke point of 360°F (180°C). It is a very stable oil and doesn’t go rancid (due to oxidation) very fast.

There are different types of coconut oils with different characteristics. It’s important to know what they are and how to use them.

Virgin coconut oil is coconut oil that has been extracted in a “wet process” is how people in South East Asia make their own oil at home - from coconut milk. Coconut milk is produced by shredding the coconut meat and mixing it with water, and than squeezing the mixture to extract a milk or cream of coconut (depending on the oil content). The oil is than allowed to separate on its own from the water by rising to the surface after 12-24 hours. In this process there is no heat involved for the most part; but some heating may take place after the separation of the oil in order to draw out any excess moisture that can risk spoiling the oil. The resulting oil is very fragrant and flavourful, coconutty oil.
It can be used on its own for moisturizing the skin as well as in cooking. I love using it as a fragrant substitute to butter in desert-type foods – i.e.: on pancakes, waffles and toast with either maple or honey or fruity jams and confitures. It can also be used in baking and in cooking though the smoking point is lower than more refined coconut oils. It is beautiful for sautéing the vegetables for curry, as a substitute for ghee. It is also beautiful as is or if infused with vanilla beans as a pure and simple skin moisturizer: it absorbs fast into the skin and leaves it slightly fragrant.

A less virginal oil is made by a dry process, in which the shreaded coconut meat is dried in the oven slightly to reduce the moisture to 10-12%, and than the oil is pressed from it.

Virgin coconut oil has a unique chemical makeup: although it is made of 92% saturated fatty acids, these are short-chained molecule (with a chain of 6-12 carbon atoms, rather than the long-chained fatty acids which are made of 14 or more carbon atoms), which gives it different characteristics than those of saturated fats from animals or other plants. These fatty acids absorb more readily into the digestive and blood system, providing immediate source of energy to the body.

Virgin coconut oil is also rich in lauric acid, a fatty acid that effectively attacks a variety of virus, fungi and bacteria. In fact, it is present in breast milk and is one of the components that helps to protect babies’ immune system against infections when they are young. Capric acid also has a similar anti-microbial effect (see more info here).

Health benefits of coconut oil can be seen in studies of large populations that use coconut oil as their main source of energy (i.e.: Indonesian people) yet have very low cases of heart diseases.

RBD Coconut Oil is refined, bleached and deodorized, and made from the “copra” (coconut meat that has been dried in either smoke, sun or kiln) and than processed with some heat in a hydraulic press. Than it undergoes a refining process to rid it from any impurities and the result is an oil that has no flavour or aroma of coconut whatsoever. It is used in commercial food, cooking and cosmetic preparations.

Virgin coconut oil and RBD coconut oil have a melting point: 76°F (24°C) and smoke point of 360°F (180°C). They have a shelf life of about 2 years.

Hydrogenated coconut oil is RBD coconut oil that has undergone a further process to make it solid even in warmer countries and has a melting point of 97-104°F (36-40°C). To achieve this, the unsaturated fats in the coconut oil are loaded with hydrogen atoms to make them saturated. Hydrogenated coconut oil is used in food preparations such as chocolate and margarine so that they don’t melt too fast; and also in non-dairy ice creams and mock-chocolate covers for ice-cream bars, etc. It is hardly as healthy as the virgin coconut oil because of the high content of trans fatty acids in it. These acids block absorption of essential fatty acids and raise the bad cholesterol levels in the blood while lowering the good cholesterol - among other negative influences on the body. Trans fatty acids are not present in virgin coconut oil.

Fractionated coconut oil is a fraction of the coconut oil, namely caprylic/capric triglyceride oil or medium chain triglyceride (MCT), and has different qualities than the whole coconut oil. The lauric acid is mostly removed for use in medicine and cosmetics. Fractionated coconut oil is also used medically, in special diets and in cosmetics and body products because of its light weight and fast absorbing texture, transparent appearance and stable consistency (it remains liquid in most climates). It makes for an excellent non-greasy body oil and can be also used as a base for oil and solid perfumes because it has no fragrance of its own, absorbs well into the skin and has a long shelf-life.

Other interesting uses for coconut oil:
- Fuel for lamps
- Soaps and detergents: coconut oil is most valuable in making vegetable based soaps, and creates a soap with excellent lather
- Surfactants for housecleaning products as well as conditioners
- Engine lubricants
- Sexual lubricants (to be avoided with latex condoms) – it also helps to prevent yeast infections

In Ayurveda, coconut is considered cooling and is used to that effect both in massage oils and in foods. Most Indian curries require coconut for the sauce (the meat is crushed along with the freshly roasted spices and sauteed garlic and/or onions). I love coconut in every shape and form and knowing that it is good for my health is just an extra bonus... I like using coconut milk or cream instead of dairy in ice creams. And on hot summer days, I would mix shredded coconut in cool water and eat it as is after it has soaked for a while (sometimes with a few raisins thrown in for some sweetness). I also love adding a tablespoon of grated coconut to savoury rice - it adds a milky flavour and crunchy texture. And of course the best way to it is is fresh, cut into cubes, with a squeeze of lime juice and with some fresh mango cubes; or just suck the fresh young coconut from a straw... A treat that is served in many Thai and Malaysian restaurants in town.

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Wheat Germ Oil

Wheat, originally uploaded by Bern@t.

As the name suggests, wheat germ oil is extracted from the germ part of grains of wheat (Triticum vulgare). The germ is the most nutritious part of the wheat: it has the highest content of protein, vitamins and minerals (whilst the rest of the grain is ostly starch and fiber). Wheat germ oil contains an unusually high amount of vitamins and anti-oxidants, more than any other raw natural oil.

Dry flakes of wheat germ are a nutritional food that can be added to salads, on pasta, in waffle or pancake batter, pastries and energy bars. It has a sweet, slightly nutty and agreeable flavour. Which cannot be said about the oil. Unfortunately, wheat is gaining bad reputation these days because there is a growing trend of people allergic (or thinking they are allergic) to wheat and the fashionable carbohydrate-free diets. But whole grain wheat is very nutritious and has proteins, minerals and vitamins in it, it isn’t just empty starch. Using the germ alone is a good way to gain the benefits of wheat with reduced starch content. Remember to keep it refrigerated and use up before it goes rancid (the flavour will become sharp and bitter and so would the odour).

The oil has a strong odour and is not particularly appealing (although some might disagree – like wheatgrass juice it has its following). But it has medicinal properties unlike any other oil and can be used in treating various skin conditions. Because it has such vital skin-regenerating properties, it can help heal sun burns, prevent and heal diaper rash and dermatitis. It greatly improves the elasticity of the skin and helps to prevent scarring, and is therefore used by pregnant woman to prepare the vaginal pass before labour to prevent rip and tear. Because of its thick consistency and strong odour it is mostly used medicinally or as a skin-nutrient additive to lighter and smoother oils.

Wheat germ oil has a very short shelf-life and is best kept refrigerated and used up within 6 months of opening the bottle. It should not be exposed to heat (which is to be said about storing most oils; but particularly important for preventing this oil from turning rancid).

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jojoba Oil - Liquid Desert Gold

Seeds on a Female Jojoba Bush, originally uploaded by kretyen.

Obtained from the seeds of a desert shrub (Simmondsia chinensis) native to Arizona, California and Mexico. The “oil” is technically a liquid wax that solidifies under 10 degrees Celsius (50F). It is made of wax esters and contains several fatty acids: eicosenoic, docosenoic and oleic acid. Its Oxidative Stability Index is 60 – so it has a long shelf life, but castor oil and coconut oil have an even longer one. Jojoba’s most important characteristic is that is resembles the human natural skin sebum. This makes jojoba a very desirable oil for cosmetics and skin care. Either the oil as it is, or certain molecules derived from jojoba (jojoba alcohol, jojoba esters and isopropyl jojobate) are very important in cosmetics.

Jojoba has very little odour of its own, and along with its excellent shelf life, it makes a great base for oil perfumes. I find it particularly useful for customers with dry skin or those who complaint that perfume just doesn’t last long enough on their skin. Either using a jojoba-oil based perfume, or applying a little jojoba oil on pulse points before applying the scent really helps in preventing the scent to absorb too fast into the skin and disappear.

Jojoba is one of the more expensive oils for body and skin care, so it is often not used on its own, but rather blended with other oils, or added as a nutrient to soaps later in the saponification process as to preserve as much as its skin moisturizing properties.

Jojoba oil can also be used as an eye makeup remover, and in facial elixirs along with other rich but fast absorbing, non-comedogenic oils such as squalane oil, rosa mosquetta oil, apricot kernel oil, etc.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Almond Goodness

Almond (Prunus dulcis, syn. Prunus amygdalus) is native to the Middle East. It is believed to be one of the first trees cultivated by humans, as it requires no grafting and can be grown directly from the seed. The Jews consider it to be one of the 7 species with which the land of Israel is blessed. The word for almond, “Shaqed”, is spelled the same and sounds similar to the word that means to study well and with due diligence.

Although in culinary terms, the almond is often referred to as a “nut” the part of almond used is considered a kernel in botanical terms. It is the seed of the almond fruit, similarly to the kernels of apricots, peaches, plums etc. If you live in an area where almonds are grown, you may get a chance to eat them as a fruit in late spring or early summer; at that time, the fruit is young and unripe, still green, ands resembles a little fuzzy unripe peach and is eaten as is, or dipped in salt, or even can be pickled. It has a mildly sour taste and an interestingly crunchy and fuzzy texture. In late summer, the kernels are crunchy but milky in flavour, and taste a lot like blanched almonds. When the fruit is finally ripe the kernel hardens and has a brown skin that is edible but can be removed by blanching in hot water or soaking in cold water overnight.

Almonds are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin E and is rich in monosaturated fat. Similarly to olive oil, it helps reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood. Almond has an interesting and mild flavour and texture which makes it ideal for pastries and desserts. Almond paste is very important in many classical Italian and French dessert recipes that have become popular world-wide (i.e.: macaroons). Also, almond meal can be also used as a partial substitute for flour in recipes thus reducing the amount of carbohydrates in pastries and desserts. An almond milk can be prepared by grinding blanched almonds, soaking them in water and than straining. The almond fat and other nutritional components will emulsify into the water and create a beverage that has a milky appearance and texture. Rosatta is a popular fragrant North African beverage prepared from an almond syrup of both bitter and sweet almonds, diluted in water. Orange flower water can be added as well. Almond butter is a delicious substitute for peanut butter for those suffering from peanut allergies. Almonds are also very popular in ice cream desserts and Indian kulphi. However, almond also lends itself beautifully to savoury meals, added to salads, garnishes for rice dishes.

The raw almonds are the most nutritious way to enjoy your almonds health benefits and flavour. Unfortunately, due to almonds grown in the USA are pasteurized so there are no true raw almonds that come from the USA. Roasted almonds, although some prefer their flavour, are often salted, and also the heat involved in the process transforms the monosaturated oils in the almonds into less advantegous types of oils. This is true for most nuts as well – they are best eaten raw.

Almond oil is expressed from the edible almond kernels and has a very mild, slightly sweet and nutty aroma and a sweet mild flavour. It is an excellent emollient that softens and conditions the skin and is used in many bath and skin products, including soap. It can be used on its own or blended with other oils for a full body massage. It is also a great moisturizer with a neutral scent and is relatively fast absorbing. Try using it as is instead of a body lotion or simply add a tablespoon of almond oil to your bath to get a soft, clean skin.

Although I don’t use it in my kitchen, almond oil is said to be a versatile oil to use as a substitute for olive oil in salad dressing. Having a high smoke point of 495ºF, it can also be used as a cooking oil (albeit not a cheap one!). I would be curious to see how it works in desserts such as moist cakes that call for vegetable oil instead of butter. If you have any experience cooking with almond oil I would love to hear your ideas and if you can share a recipe – all the better!

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Virtues of Olive Oil

Mediterranean Gold, originally uploaded by Kuzeytac.

Olive (Olea europaea) is native to the east basin of the Mediterranean ocean, whose other fragrant family members include jasmine, lilac and osmanthus (aka sweet olive). Although olives can be grown in other places successfully (i.e.: California), the best olive oils are those grown in the region. I am, of course, impartial to the olive oils grown where I come from: the Western Galilee in Israel. Since biblical times, this was the region of olive oil. Perhaps it’s all Jacob’s fault, as he blessed his son Asher (whose tribe inherited this part of the land): “me Asher shmena lachmo, ve hu yiten ma’adanei melech” (Genesis, XLIX, 20) - Translation: “out of Asher his bread will be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties”.

The plant's uses are not limited to food: the oil was also used in coronation rituals, in cosmetics, toiletries and last but not least - in "oil candles" (see picture above). Pure virgin olive oil of the highest quality was used in the Jewish tabernacle and temple Menorah to keep an eternal light at the holy place. And this is what the Hanukkah story is all about - the miracle of one little can of oil that instead of one day, lasted for 8 days, until consecrated, pure olive oil will be brought from the Western Galilee to Jerusalem.

Two Olive Trees, originally uploaded by elkost.

Although the trees are not very tall (they grow about 8-15m high at the most), they grow a thick trunk that becomes hollow with age. The olive trees require no watering (except for when the trees are very young, in the first couple of years after planting). These are hardy trees that are used to the dry conditions and can survive no rain for many months. Tending the trees, besides the harvest, requires some tending to after the harvest season: pruning the trees, aerating the earth around them by plowing and fertilizing (usually with cow manure) once the harvest is over. Aside from that, the trees are pretty much left to themselves for the rest of the year.

The harvest takes place in the fall, after the first rain washes the dust off the olives and before the rain season begins (which will spoil the fruit). This usually happens in late October and early November. Most olive growers are Druze and Arabic families who grow the same olives on their estate for hundreds of years. The harvest season is intense and quite stressful as all the work has to be done between the 1st rain and the 2nd rain. Failing to do this on time will result in loss of crops or an inferior olive oil. Therefore, the extended family usually drops everything else – work, business and school for the kids – to make sure the olives are all off the trees before the 2nd rain. All ages participate in the harvest, including young children (even toddlers) and the old, who can at least help with sorting out the olives (i.e.: chucking out the spoiled ones and those infested with worms) and putting aside those suitable for pickling. The green (unripe) olives contain more oil than the black ones. Most of the fruit is pressed into oil, but some is pickled (usually you would take out the bigger, nicer looking olives for pickling), and of course the very ripe black ones would be set aside for special preparation (see more below under “Culinary Uses”).

In my region, the harvest season has now been extended into an “Olive Harvest Festival” to celebrate the region’s historical treasure and to promote peace between Arabs and Jews through cultural celebrations such as music, dance, and of course – food with olives and olive oil.

The Olive Oil Plant 1, originally uploaded by Omri Suissa.

The olives are all brought to the olive pressing house, which functions as an olive-oil co-op. Each family’s crop will be weighed before pressing, and the family will in return get an equivalent percentage to their contribution of the oil produced. A set percentage remains with the pressing house, as a form of payment.

Olive oil is the only oil expressed from a fruit (rather than a seed or a nut). And is the only one that is truly cold pressed. There are three grades of olive oil:

Virgin olive oil, which is produced from lightly pressing on the olives and requires no filtration. It is produced from grinding the olive fruit into a paste, traditionally using millstones, which are now replaced with steel drums. The paste is than placed in a centrifuge to mechanically separate the oil from the paste (the paste sinks to the bottom). This grade is the most desirable grade for food preparation and for consumption, and has the highest levels of antioxidants (which account for its slightly bitter taste). Some virgin olive oils are also filtered to get rid of the cloudy residues. Extra virgin olive oil is processed the same as virgin olive oil, but also “satisfies specific high chemical and organoleptic criteria (low free acidity, no or very little organoleptic defects)” (Wikipedia)

Grade A oil is obtained by further pressing the olive fruit which remained from the virgin oil production, and requires some refinement.

Grade B oil is produced from extracting the remaining fruit in hexane.

Another grade, which is called pomace oil, is produced by using the residue of fruit used fro grade B oils, and also grinding the pits of the olives, which also contain oil on their own. This process may also require some extraction with solvent (hexane). These are mostly valuable for soapmaking and not so much for cooking or cosmetics.

Chemical Makeup:
Contains mixed triglyceride esters of oleic acid and palmitic acid and of other fatty acids, along with traces of squalene (up to 0.7%) and sterols (about 0.2% phytosterol and tocosterols) (Wikipedia).

Health Benefits:
To name a few of the main ones:

- Lowers the “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood while preventing oxidation of the “good” cholesterol in the blood
- Cardioprotective benefits (i.e.: reduces the risk of coronary heart diseases, when used instead of less beneficial fats in one’s diet).

- Helps to balance omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats.

- Anti-oxidant. Interestingly, the elderly Druze in the Galilee touted a morning routine that involved drinking a glass of virgin olive oil on an empty stomach, to promote health and longevity. Also, the oldest woman in recorded history, Jean Calment, credited her longevity and her healthy skin to deliberately use of olive oil in her diet.

Cretan olive harvest, originally uploaded by Peace Correspondent.

Culinary Uses:
The ripe (black) or unripe (green) fruit can be pickled in salt water.
The green olives need to be cracked or slashed and soaked and rinsed in water for several weeks first to remove their bitterness; than pickled in brine (water and salt) and spices of choice (usually wedged lemons, whole cloves of garlic and a few dried hot peppers will suffice) for about 2 months, or until the olives developed their typical pickled-olive colour and their bitterness has subsided drastically.
The black ones can be pickled immediately, or layered with coarse salt in a basket to preserve. After 3 months the black brine olives will be ready to serve: rinsed with water, drained, and than sprinkled with olive oil and fresh herbs of choice (rue leaf is a classic addition).

Olives are an indispensable condiment, served with Mezze (traditional Middle Eastern appetizers and salads), made into tapanades, added to Martinis, sandwiches and more.

Olive oil is best used fresh, rather than a cooking or frying oil. My favourite salad dressing is a simple squeeze of lemon juice from ½ a lemon (if you squeeze it by hand some of the lemon essential oils drip from the peel to the juice) and about 2 Tbs. of extra virgin olive oil. Really you don’t need anything else to make a perfect salad dressing, not even salt or pepper.

I like drizzling olive oil onto pasta after it’s been cooked, with or without the tomato sauce.

A simple bread dip can be made by blending together olive oil and balsamic vinegar and/or soy sauce. A clove of garlic is optional. It’s a great substitute for butter and really goes fantastically well with freshly baked bread. Another condiment I grew up on was “Za’atar”, a combination of wild herbs, primarily hyssop, with a touch of wild mountain thyme and white mint (when available), sumac and sesam seeds. These are either sprinkled on yogurt cheese (“Labaneh”) or mixed into a paste with the olive oil and used as a spread or a dip for pita and other regional flat breads.

Steamed vegetables, when fresh and in season, don’t need much more dressing up besides olive oil. Try using a drizzle of olive oil and a touch of sea salt or fleur de sel on steamed broccoli, brussles sprouts or asparagus. It will transform both your health and your cuisine.

Similarly, you can use olive oil in potato puree. Mash the potatoes with a little bit of the water they were cooked in, a touch of salt, a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil and a dash of thyme. And the same trick with yams is out of this world yummy.

Skin-Care Properties:
Humectant, moisturizing, anti-oxidant. It creates a protective film on the skin, absorbs moisture from the air yet without clogging the skin or interfering with its cell activity (breathing, shedding, regeneration, etc.).

Aegean Pearl -- Baby Olive, originally uploaded by Kuzeytac.

Beauty and Body Care Uses:
Olive oil is used in both skin care and hair care products, incorporated into body lotions, salt and sugar scrubs, shampoos and conditioners. Castile soap was originally a soap made of olive oil as the only fat, and it is a very mild soap though without much lather – it has wonderful cleansing properties without drying the skin and is gentle enough to use on babies. The Druze from the nearby village made castile soap like that from the olive pomace and it was mild enough to wash babies clothes in it (we’d grate it to make soap flakes) but also powerful enough to remove some tough stains.

The oil itself can be used as massage oil, and will keep the skin smooth and moisturized. Applying virgin olive oil to the scalp before shampooing will help reduce dandruff or flaky itchy scalp. It can either be applied as is or warmed up first as a warm hair-mask (cover your hair with plastic bag and a towel to keep the heat on the head). Olive oil can be also applied to the tips of your hair if it’s dry and also as an all-natural, simple styling product (just don’t put too much!).

For more Mediterranean beauty tips incorporating olive oil, read Helg’s excellent “review” of olive oil on Makeup Alley. What else do you use olive oil for? Please share your wisdom by commenting below.

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8 Exquisite Oils for Health and Beauty

Happy Hanukah everyone!

Hope you’re all enjoying light, warmth, family & company.

And as far as oil goes: commemorating the miracle of the little can of olive oil really needn’t involve so much fried food. After all, it was full of pure virgin cold-pressed olive oil, which is really good for you!

And just to prove my point, I am bringing to you little segments with 8 botanically-derived oils, that can be used for your health benefits and your own homemade beauty preparations and indulgences. Oils that are nutritional, tasty, smell great, have a great texture or all of the above. So let’s get some grease!

I'm sure I won't be able to cover all the good oils there are, but what can we do - there are only eight days. So I am going to attempt to exhaust the following:
1. Olive Oil
2. Almond Oil
3. Jojoba Oil
4. Wheat Germ Oil
5. Coconut oil
6. Camellia (Tea Seed) Oil
7. Sesame Oil
8. Avocado Oil

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Bath Salts

Every year I make some bath products for gifts for friends and regular customers for the winter holidays. Sometimes it's a bath or massage oil, or sugar scrub, and last year it was bath salts, which turned out really nicely. Bathing rituals, short or long, seem to be an important thing in the winter time. A hot bath helps to bring the heat back to your body if you spent just a little too much time running around outside and freezing your legs off. It's also a way to unwind and relax in this stressful season preparing for the holidays and making sure there's enough food on the table for the season. And lastly, it can be invigorating to take a bath if leaving the house is nearly out of the question and you start suffering from cabin fever. Especially a fragrant one!

A few weeks ago (just before my back got the best of me), I went back to the bath salts I created last year and modified them a bit to make them even better.

I pack most of them in those little tiny pickling jars I found and they are really cute. They have enough room for 100gr of bath salts and make a perfect little gift that smells heavenly. This year, I decided to use some ground-glass lab bottles that I didn't have any other use for and they look fantastic. I am on the lookout for more fun glass containers (like the shell one in the front, which I found in an antique shop). The salts I using this year vary, for the Geranium and for the Yuzu bath salts I now use Himalayan rock crystal salt, which is naturally pink and gorgeous.

As far as the scents go - I modified the formulas for a few of them, making them essentially simpler. I find that simpler is better with bath products - they seem to blend better with the base and not change or turn as much over time as the really complex perfumey ones do.

Another thing that had to change in the formulation was the salts ratio. Last year I used a recipe from a certain book that called for baking soda in addition to the salt. The result was a disaster: the soda absorbed all the oils, and turned the whole mix into a solid yet moist chunk of smelly salts. Besides, once I was able to get it out of the jar, it had those fizzy soda things floating in the bath. It just seemed very unnecessary to have soda in there. Using a combination of salts (sea salt, epsom salt and other exotic salts if you can find them) is a much better idea.

They all remained true to their essence and you might not even notice the difference if you tried them last year:
Hinoki is inspired by the Japanese wooden bath, usually carved in hinoki wood which is particularly resilient and has an exotic, tranquil and serene aroma. Here is it blended with the Japanese wood oils of hinoki (Japanese cypress), shiso leaf and seaweed to create an extraordinary bathing experience.
Yuzu is a Japanese citron, a fruit that is used in bathing rituals during the Winter Solstice. The bath salts are citrusy and refreshing and while being sweet it also has a hint of greenness to it from the Japanese mint and rosemary. It's mouthwateringly delicious with additional notes of litsea cubeba, grapefruit and clementine.
Geranium is the same gorgeous, luscious fruit geranium with vanilla and myrrh undertones and citrus spark.
Lavender is herbaceous yet sweet with the addition of licorice notes (tarragon, aniseed) and yummy vanilla.
Lastly, Spruce, which was based on the original Bois d'Hiver bath salts. It's still very similar in concept - incensey woods, coniferous notes and spices. However, instead of fir, spruce takes the centre piece and it's a little more refreshing, balsamic and less sweet and jammy. I think it's far more appropriate for a bath and the sandalwood lingers on the skin beautifully after leaving the bath. The new formula smells so different I had to change the name.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Must Read: Meet the Perfumer

“You know who wrote a piece of music or created a painting, so why not know who made a perfume?” (Maurice Roucel)
Change is happening in the perfumery world. Read the rest of the article in the New York Times.

Related links:
"The hhicken or the egg" - Now Smell This discussion on the topic


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

What the British like to smell

Questionable as a method of true research into the British olfactory taste (it is based on an internet poll on but nevertheless entertaining to find out what Brits admit to enjoy through their nose: the smell of fresh baked bread, clean sheets and freshly cut grass. Read the rest here. Not surprisingly, Fish and Chips were also among the top-20 scents that make Brits happy.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Introducing: Ayala Moriel Mini

Just in time for the holidays, we bring to you a new size to hold our fragrant offerings. Introducing:
Ayala Moriel Mini

Cute as a button and sweet as a treat, this mini splash bottle is the perfect size to sneak into a stocking, a pocket or a purse... Yet large enough to contain 4ml (1/8oz) of pure perfume bliss!

We want everyone on your list to have a scent to call their own this holiday season, yet without blowing up your budget and getting you into trouble - so this is offered at an attractive price of only $35 and comes in a cute jewelry box bow-tied with a satin ribbon and ready for gift giving. All you need to do is pick your scent!

If you need help we're always here to match a scent for all your family and friends. You can start by doing our online Fragrance Questionnaire.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Five Full Plates Mention

Five Full Plates feels inspired by Ayala Moriel's scents for a new year of new beginnings in 2010. I'm so glad to see that perfume can inspire positive change for individuals :-)