Monday, January 30, 2012

Precious Fruit

Last week has flown by without even a glimpse of a chance to tell you about the progress of my Etrog perfume. The big breakthrough was, of course, finding the right heart note. But there is more fine-tuning that had to be done with the top notes and the base notes. Finding the right balance and also searching for a few missing elements. It was still lacking in some brightness, and needed more body and substance from both the base and the heart (for fixative quality - i.e. longevity - and also for more interest).

I was contemplating adding yuzu, aka Japanese citron (Citrus junos) to keep along with the citron theme. But the scent is so different from that of the cedrat or etrog citron (Citrus medica) that although I used it in previous mods (before obtaining the citron peel oil) - I quickly neglected the idea. The etrog is so subtle anyway, it's best to keep things simple with only the three types of Etrog essences I have (2 types of tinctures, and one essential oil) plus the pomelo (Citrus maxima) tincture.

As for the heart - it needed more depth, but also more brightness. The balsam poplar buds are so resinous and thick they threaten to steal the show! Etrog has began to smell more honeyed and ambery than planned. So, to cure the problem, I decided to intensify that effect with some real honey absolute on the basis of "Similia simelibius curentur", but it still needed some brightness, which was originally achieved with litsea cubeba. And for unknown reason, it felt wrong. I was hovering right next to it exploring other similar essences, and unearthed the very little bit of citron petitgrain that Mandy has given me when I visited her in Berkeley (she describes it as smelling like Meyer lemon blossoms!), and lemon myrtle that my brother Yotam brought me from Australia and I've never actually used in any of my perfumes (except for something I blended for him eons ago). They all got along marvelously, and also satisfied my geeky desire to keep with the Sukkot theme: myrtle and citron, both being part of the 4 species of the holiday. Sometimes, the simplest solutions lie right in front of your nose...

Last but not least, came the testing phase. The reason why in the photo above you're seeing what looks like a completed perfume (although it's not!), with label and spray and all, is because I had to test it in the spray form. And the reason why it's lying right next to a big fuzzy fragrant quince, is because I find quince and citron very similar to one another. Both have mythical tales surrounding them, unique aroma and medicinal properties hidden behind a rather modest (or even rustic and slightly unappealing look, in the case of Yemenite citron, or the fuzzy quince). These are the kind of fruit that fairy tales were woven about that if you're ill, the smell of this one special fruit will cure all ailments. That's been always my on my mind when creating the Etrog perfume.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Aphrodisac of the Day: Frankincense

frankincense tree by Alexbip
frankincense tree, a photo by Alexbip on Flickr.

In the Aphrodisiac of the Day series leading to Valentine's Day 2012, I present to you some of the easier to find aphrodisiacs and suggest creative and fun (as well as safe!) uses for your own amusement and pleasure. I'm also attempting to bring them in alphabetical order, and because there isn't all that much time I will only bring one of each letter (even though, there are more aphrodisiacs beginning with "C" than I can possibly cover here this year: I've already told you about Cardamom, but there are other domestic spices such as cinnamon, cumin, cloves, and the more exotic civet and costus root). Since I can't find anything beginning with "D" that I know enough about from first hand experience (there is damiana, which I know little of) - I'll jump straight to F and talk about frankincense. The name is derived from "Franc" (Medieval French for "Free") and "Incensum" (Latin for "to kindle"). Olibanum, the more ancient name for it is derived from the Hebrew name "Levonah".

Frankincense (Boswellia carteri) is a small tree or large shrub that grows wild in the deserts of Arabia near the Red Sea (in Yemen and Oman, where the best quality comes from), most of which is used by the Arab world. The next best quality of frankincense comes from Somalia and Somaliland, from which most of the essential oils and so-called absolutes of frankincense are processed for perfumery and aromatherapy purposes. Arabian frankincense is harvested from the wild by Bedouins (the nomadic tribes of the desert), who will induce more resin by placing incisions in the tree trunks and branches. The tree will exude a milky liquid that quickly resinifies into yellow, white and golden amber resins ranging in size from pea to a walnut. These are broken off the branches or collected from the ground underneath the trees.

Indian frankincense (Boswellia serrata) has a similar odour and has been used in Ayurveda "treating arthritis, healing wounds, strengthening the female hormone system, and purifying the atmosphere from undesirable germs" (Wikipedia). It's also considered helpful for respiratory conditions and even asthma.
The resin looks like precious gold, and smells like drops of sun and its texture is redolent of the dry desert where it came from: It is often a little dusty - partly from the broken resin itself, and party from the desert earth itself. It has a freshness to it alongside a balsamic, heavy, exotic perfume. The scent is fresh-citrusy (from limonene), woody-conifer (from the pinene) and spicy-peppery (from the phellandrene content). But above all, it possesses a richness that is unlike other, and unfortunately does not translate nearly as well into the essential oil, which is more light, fleeting and orangy-lemony in feel with a slightly powdery woody oriental finish.

The best of frankincense comes through once its burned as an incense. Placed directly on hot charcoal or embers (nestled in a heat-proof censer, of course), the resins and gums dissolves and release the true aroma of frankincense, without any “burnt” incense after notes. If you’ve ever entered an ancient church such as the Church of Holy Sepulchre or the Notre-Dame, whose walls are infused with prayers and incense smoke of hundreds of years - you know what I’m talking about… It brings the mind an instant calm and contemplative state that is most suitable for prayer and meditation, but also for other things…

Although not exactly as easy to find as culinary spices, you can find frankincense in most church supply shops - either on its own, or with various other resins and herbs. I suggest you stick to pure frankincense, and while you're there - you might as well pick up some myrrh resin and benzoin (which is a dried balsam), and charcoal to burn them on. This is the simplest, purest loose incense and if you are not objected to smouldering your habitat with thick, aromatic smoke - this might be the beginning of a very fine journey that will connect you to incense burning traditions as ancient as the world's first civilization (myrrh and frankincense were the first burning perfumes, remnants of which were found in ruins of ancient Sumer).

Don't let the religious associations of these resins "turn you off". The reason they were used in religious rituals since the dawn of civilization is because of their immensely powerful effect on the mind, body and soul. Their powerful effects were hardly researched until quite recently. For example: Boswellic acid, one of the main constituents in frankincense resin and oil has therapeutic properties was found to have anti-inflammatory properties and even cancer-fighting potential. But more relevant to our aphrodisiac topic, is the 2008 research by Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem that found incensole acetate to reduce stress levels in mice.

Priests, shamans and prophets of antiquity did not need mice to know that. They burned frankincense in ceremonies and temples since the beginning of human civilizations. Frankincense was 5 times more popular than myrrh in ancient Egypt. While myrrh was used in some perfume and incense preparations at this time - it is probably most known for its used in the mummification process and in medicine (a powerful analgesic). Frankincense enjoyed more versatile uses: it was burned at dawn to worship the sun-god Rah.

Frankincense is not your predictable aphrodisiac that stimulate and excite the superficial layers of passion. Instead, it works on a deeper level of our mind - calming it completely and connecting us to the spiritual part of our existence, or our soul, or whichever way you’d like to call it. And being connected to your soul can only do you good - especially in our time, when the modern life-style gives very little room for relaxation, contemplation and connecting with one’s inner self.

Aside from particular health conditions that might be associated with lowered libido, stress is probably the number 1 mood killer or “anti-aphrodisiacs”. With this in mind, it only makes sense that something that is relaxing and is not damaging in any other ways, can only help (unlike, for instance – wine – which can relax and increase libido but can also take away from the fun by having the completely opposite effect tby the end of the night; not to mention unsightly spider veins all over your face and other less desirable long-term side effects).

So if burning incense makes you happy – do it for your own sake, and also to improve your love life. If loose incense seems like too much trouble (it does require some skill and certain equipment) – opt for high-quality incense sticks such as Shoyeido’s Frankincense from their Gourmet series, and Diamond in the Jewel series.

If you’re not into any kind of smoke, you can enjoy the essential oil in a diffuser or in a bath alone (as few as 5 drops of frankincense will be more than enough for a relaxing bath) or in a 30ml (2 Tbs) massage oil base (such as: almond, avocado or grapeseed oil) blend with other beautiful and sweet smelling oils to enhance its aphrodisiac qualities:

Olibanum Sensual Massage Oil
4 drops Frankincense essential oil

1 drop Roman Chamomile essential oil
1 drop Cinnamon leaf oil
3 drops Neroli oil
5 drops Sweet Orange oil
1oz (30ml) or 2 Tbs almond, avocado or grapeseed oil

And last but not least – enjoy it in a tea! Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes created an innovative beverage - Frankincense GABA Oolong - that combines the best of both worlds – sensual, aromatic and with health benefits. Her hojary frankincense is hand-tinctured and infused into an organic oolong that is rich in GABA – a naturally occurring human neurotransmitter that brings calm and relaxation to the mind and the body. While the oolong itself is a little earthy, the frankincense adds a fine nuance of woods and hints of citrus and keeps opening up and unfolding as the tea leaf unfurl with recurrent steepings. As with most high-quality teas, and particularly oolongs, this tea can be re-infused and each cup will taste and smell differently – which makes it even more fun experience for the palate.

Aphrodisiac perfumes containing true frankincense oil: Arunima , Atlantic (Strange Invisible Perfumes), Avignon (Comme des Garcons), Carmel Bohême (Envoyage Perfumes), Encens Blanc (Rebel & Mercury) Fête d'Hiver (Ayala Moriel), Fire and Cream (Strange Invisible Perfume), Incense (Ava Luxe), Incense & Chocolate (Ayala Moriel OOAK perfume), Incense Pure (Sonoma Scent Studio), Mahjoun (Dawn Spencer Hurwitz), Marie Antoinette (JoAnne Bassett), Moon Breath (Ayala Moriel), Old Spice, Oud Luban (Aftelier), Rivertown Road (Soivhole), Song of Songs (Ayala Moriel).

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Xin Nian Kuai Le!

Xin Nian Kuai Le!
Happy Year of the Dragon :-)

Today marks the beginning of another 12 year zodiacal cycle, and being a dragon myself I can only hope for the best. This year it's a black dragon, or a water dragon, and it also marks the end of the cycle of wood and the beginning of a cycle of fire. The dragon is a mythical creature of remarkable size. So big that you can't see both of its head and tail at the same time! So it always has something new to show you when you least expect it. Dragon, unlike the Western evil fire-spitting monsters are believed to brings good fortune in Chinese culture. From all that I gathered means that it's a year of unpredictable things, surprising turns of events that could change for either better or worse - according to all the sources that like to predict things... How convenient for them!

On a more on-topic for this blog notion: my spontaneous search today for a dragon-related plants (preferably aromatic) did not yield anything of interest besides what I already knew about... There is the obvious - 9 bend dragon red tea (probably not the only dragon-inspired tea in China though!) which I've tasted and reported about earlier. But I'm speaking of dragon's blood (the resin of the plant pictured above), which is blood-red, and is used in incense more than in perfumery. I've used in in my Clarimonde perfume. It is associated with the planet of Mars, and is burnt in magical rituals to return a lost love. It has a scent not unlike frankincense when burnt on hot charcoal.

The other dragon-related aromatic plant is tarragon - aka estragon - which means "little dragon". It has a sweet, balsamic, anise-like scent because of the methyl chavicol content (it might remind you of exotic or Thai basil as well), but brighter and greener than aniseed or fennel, and the absolute is out of this world lovely, with buttery, lactonic aspects that are rare to find in plant extracts. I've used it in my Vetiver Racinettes and Black Licorice. And of course - the culinary uses of tarragon are quite delightful - I use it in fennel & orange tea sandwiches, in salad dressings and on fish.

Since I've been so absorbed in my botanical research of aphrodisiacs I think writing about these two in more depth will take place later. But I hope you found this very little bit inspiring and that the year will bring you only happy surprises!

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Green & Black: Cardamom's Aphrodisiac Properties & Uses Explored

Cardamom is one of my favourite spices ever, being one that I’ve been exposed to from a tender age, under the name “hel” – and in this regard I’m not different than any other Middle Eastern kid who’ve been indulging in baklava in special occasions, or been tempted to take a sip of the grown-ups’ dark roasted coffee fragrant with cardamom.

What I love so much about cardamom is its complexity and versatility as it so readily lends itself to both savoury dishes, beverages, confections and desserts. My first times using it on my own initiative have been as part of my version of an aromatic vegetable stew for couscous, along with coriander seeds, cinnamon and cloves. And later on I learned how wonderful it can work in basmati rice, not to mention myriads of aromatic curries, masalas and other spice blends, and countless desserts – Oriental sweets are the obvious ones (Baclava, sahleb, sheera, gulab jamun, rice puddings and more), but also in European pastries and baked goods (carrot cake, banana bread, gingerbread, and many Scandinavian pastries, surprisingly).

So it is both with amusement and excitement when I learned that cardamom is also considered to be a “stimulating” aphrodisiac. Green cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is the fruit of a tropical plant related to ginger (Zingiberaceae) is picked when unripe and dried. White cardamom is simply green cardamom that have been bleached, so do avoid buying this “spice”. Black (aka wild) cardamom (Amomum costatum) and has some common traits in its aroma profile – with the camphoreous component amplified, but also with an unusual smoky and earthy note that is absent in the green variety

It is also quite different in how it can be employed in dishes, lending itself much more freely to savoury dishes such as hearty curries, soups and stews and as a component in garam masala.

Green cardamom is perfect in Middle Eastern and East Indian desserts – often paired with the flavours of rosewater, saffron, cinnamon, coconut and other nuts (Gulab jamun, Indian Halvas, Baclava, Harissa), or to top off puddings and steamed milk beverages (Sahleb, Banana Sheera). It also works wonders with ginger, nutmeg and mace in warming European pastries (gingerbread, carrot cake, banana bread, pfeffernusse and more).

And of course – it is used to flavour Turkish coffee (usually it is the only spice added) and Masala Chai, where it is blended with fresh ginger root, aniseed, fennel or star anise, black pepper and allspice berries along with Assam tea leaves.

In savoury dishes, cardamom is an essential in many spice blends, such as the Indian garam masala, and is put to use in countless Indian curries. Morocco’s famous Ras el Hanout and in the Arabic Hawayej blends. It’s best friends in savoury spice blends are coriander and cumin seeds.

Romantic Aromatic Bath with Cardamom & Rose

Transport yourself to the orient with this simple bath-time treat that is equally majestic to enjoy alone or with your lover:

Fill your bathtub with warm water, and sprinkle with one cup of epsom salts (you may also add 1/4-1/2 cup sea salt or dead sea salts if you wish). Epsom salts relax the muscles. Sea and Dead Sea salts purify and cleanse the skin.
When the bath is full, put one drop of each pure Bulgarian Rose Otto and cardamom oil or CO2 into the tub. Soak and enjoy the sweet and exotic aromas mingle and fill the air. It feels to me like a thousand petals of roses unfold and above it, the sweet exotic aroma of cardamom reminds me of eating Rahat Loukum in a Hammam (something I'm yet to experience...).

If you don't have pure rose otto or can't afford it, rose geranium oil would be a good enough substitute, although it's aroma is ever so slightly more citrusy and herbaceous. It still gets that Oriental sweets aroma when combined with cardamom though :-)

Basmati rice with cardamom & carrots
(adapted from "Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites" - there is it called "Golden Basmati Rice" p. 185, which includes grated carrots, orange zest and 1/2 tsp each cinnamon and turmeric).

1 cup white basmati rice, soaked for 20-30 minutes, than rinsed and drained

1 onion, diced

1 Tbs. ghee (clarified butter) or grapeseed oil

Generous pinch of saffron, soaked in 1 Tbs. boiling water for 30 minutes

2 whole cardamoms, peeled and ground with mortar & pestle (they certainly taste much better when freshly ground - totally worth the extra effort - not mention, it's so much fun to pound them and inhale the fresh aroma of the seeds released into the kitchen's air!)

1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste - I recommend not using more than 1tsp per cup of rice)

1-3/4 cup boiling water

1/4 cup sliced almonds, slightly roasted on a dry cast iron pan (for about 2-3 minutes)

- Begin by soaking the rice in cold water, and the saffron in boiling water. While they are soaking, prepare the cardamom, cut the onion and have all your other ingredients handy.

- On medium heat, warm the ghee in a small (about a quart size) pot.

- Sautee the onions until golden.

- Add the rice and the cardamom, and sautee while stirring for another 2-3 minutes.

- Add boiling water, salt and the saffron (with the water!), and bring to a boil again, without the lid. Reduce the heat to low, and cover the pot. Continue cooking for another 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender.

- Remove from heat, and keep the lid on for another 10 minutes. Be sure to keep the lid closed! This is the final stage of cooking, that will ensure your rice is well cooked, but nice and fluffy (rather than sticky...).

- While the rice is steaming quietly in the pot, prepare your almonds by roasting them gently in a cast iron pan. Be sure to stir and attend to them fully, so they don't get burnt! This will take about 2-3 minutes.

- When the rice is ready, fluff it with a fork, and transfer to a serving dish. Top with the roasted sliced or slivered almonds, and enjoy with your choice of curry, dal or Middle Eastern style casserole (such as eggplants, zucchinis or ladyfingers in tomato & pepper sauce).

SmellyBlog recipes with green cardamom:
Chai No. 1

Chai No. 2

SmellyBlog recipes with black cardamom:
Babaghanoush with Black Cardamom & Pomegranate

Spiced Italian Plum Cake

Black Beauty Chocolate Truffle (infused with Lapsang Suchong and Black Cardamom)

Perfumes with Cardamom:

Épice Sauvage



Vetiver Racinettes

And my two One of a Kind current offerings:

Incense & Chocolate

Sandal Tree

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Aphrodisiac of the Day: Basil

Is there any herb more refreshing, simple yet intriguing than basil?

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a plant native to India that have spread all around Asia and Europe and is one of the most popular herbs in many cuisines - North East Asian cuisine, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian in Asia - and in Europe it is most popular in Italian and French cuisine.

Basil is a stimulant and an aphrodisiac. It has such an uplifting, cheerful scent and is used in aromatherapy to combat depression and anxiety (both are probably two of the most potent anti-aphrodisiacs). So if you suffer the winter blues, take advantage of the benefit of this domestic, easy to find, grow and use little herb. You can find it fresh in most supermarkets, and even better – you can get your own plant and keep it by a sunlit window (if you have a kitchen window – all the better).

In herbal medicine, ayurveda and aromatherapy, sweet basil is used for relieving headaches (including migraines), earaches, cold and flu symptoms, sinus congestion, depression, anxiety and fatigue. Its essential oil has antioxidants as well as antiviral and antimicrobial properties. It also aids in digestion and is used to treat various conditions related to the stomach. It also has a balancing effect on the nervous system and is considered an excellent nerve tonic. Sweet basil is said to have the ability to give the mind strength and clarity and as such is regarded as a useful studying-aid to assist in focus, memory and concentration.

There are many types and cultivars of basil. Generally speaking, in warmer countries, Exotic Basil - or the chemotype methyl chavicol is dominant (70-88%), resulting in a spicier, more pungent aroma that is closer to tarragon, fennel or anise in fragrance and flavour, and with the eugenol more dominant as well. In cooler countries, "Sweet Basil" or "French Basil" or else known as the linalol type (with 40-45% linalol) will still have a significant amount of methyl chavicol (over 20%) and will produce a fresher aroma that is more green and light, perceived citrusy by some (due to the limonene and citronellol molecules coming through better). Think about the difference of flavours of basil when you eat it in a Thai curry or in a pho noodle soup; versus in pesto or in Italian dishes.

Other components of basil oil include 1,8-cineole which accounts for its respiratory benefits (this is also present in eucalyptus and rosemary), and eugenol, which gives it spicy, clove-like nuances, methyl cinnamate, which gives it a robust, fruity-spicy character, reminiscent of strawberry and cinnamon in both flavour and scent, and also attracts certain insects. And the limonene (the terpene that characterizes all citrus oils and has a lemon-orange scent) and citronellol (that gives lemongrass, citronella and geranium a fruity-citrusy-rosy personality) we mentioned earlier - which give basil it's uplifting, fresh and light charm reminiscent of citrus.

Basil has interesting folklore and myths associated with it - it was considered holy, protective, seductive and even associated with evil! Here are a few examples: In India, Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum, aka Holy Basil, which is a different species of basil and is a perennial shrub) is grown on its very own altar in the temples and in every home, and is worshiped and offered to deities Vishnu and Krishna. Sweet basil is added to the holy water in the Greek Orthodox church as it was believed that this plant was found on Jesus grave. African traditions believe basil to protect against scorpions; and both in Europe and India basil leaves are given to the dead to protect them on their journey and even help them to reach God (in Ancient Egypt and Greece). In Ancient Rome it was said to be the only plant that could fight the lethal gaze and fire of the Basilisk; and yet, some European tales associate it with Satan himself.

But back to our topic - there are many customs around basil and love, such as giving basil twigs as token of love in Italy and seal an engagement in Romania; presenting a pot of basil decorated with pompoms to a loved one along with a love poem on Saint John and Saint Anthony Days in Portugal; keeping basil leaves in one's pockets to ensure that their loved one will return their love forever in Mexico. But the most touching legend involving basil is in Decameron and in the poem adapted from it by John Keats titled Isabella and the Pot of Basil.

Basil essential oil happily pairs with jasmine and citrus to create very uplifting, mood enhancing, refreshing scents that act as stimulating aphrodisiac – especially if you like the scent of basil. Burn an ArbitRary candle to bring on this happy mood. Or if you have your own little collection of essential oil, a drop of each basil, lime and jasmine in a diffuser or in the bath will lift your spirit and make you feel sexy and refreshed.

RG Tests by Giuseppe Bognanni
RG Tests, a photo by Giuseppe Bognanni on Flickr.

For those of you who prefer basil only in their food – here are two recipe ideas, one savoury and one sweet. That’s right - you can use savoury herbs in desserts to create a surprising, special effect. And there is no better time than now to experiments with such innovative combinations to spice up your life and change an otherwise mundane and familiar flavour into an extraordinary affair!

Savoury Recipe: Polenta with Basil, Tomatoes & Balsamic Reduction
This simple, tried-and-true classic can be assembled in no time, and tomatoes are also an aphrodisiac, due to their bright red and curvy, suggestive shape. I like to this gluten-free alternative to bruchetta as it’s just as delicious and feels much lighter. It will literally 2 minutes to assemble, given that you have all the ingredients on hand.

1 log of polenta (you can get these in most grocery stores and supermarkets – they look like a big yellow sausage), sliced about ¼” (about 1/2 cm) thick2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
1 bunch basil leaves (I usually get organic ones and don’t wash them at all, as this can take away from the flavour; if not organic – rinse and dry using a salad spinner or gently wipe dry with a towel)
Balsamic reduction
Bocconcini cheese, sliced

Top each polenta slice with a slice of bocconcini cheese. Put a tiny bit of balsamic reduction, top with tomato and garnish with a basil leaf.

I love basil in desserts - especially in the summer in a sorbetto, which can be a wonderful palate cleanser in between courses in a fancy meal. This recipe, however, is for Lime & Basil Macarons. I saw the idea first in Ottolenghi's cookbook and immediately thought it is so brilliant I have to at least bring it up here - even before I try making them myself!

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Aphrodisiac of the Day: Ambrette Seed

Aromatic Aphrodisiacs

Ambrette was discussed here before in other contexts, for example: in my article about vegetale musks, and how it was employed in my newest perfumed tea. Today I want to highlight its aphrodisiac qualities, and how you can use it creatively in your own kitchen (or the bedroom...).

Ambrette seed is the seeds of Abelmoschus moschatus - an evergreen shrub from the hibiscus family, with yellow flowers with purplish-pink centre. These little innocent looking seeds are the perfumer's best choice for replacing animal-musk, although admittedly, it's far more gentle, sublime and not as sharp as animal musk.

Ambrette seed has a subtle and sublime musky odour. It is warm, but not quite like what one would call "spicy" - if anything its complexity reminds me slightly of that of coriander seed, although it's not nearly as heady (coriander has citrus elements in its chemical makeup, due to molecules such as limonene; and also light woodsy floralcy from the linalol). Ambrette is also slightly floral (probably due to the farnesol content); but has a very distinct aroma of its own, hardly sharing anything with other fragrant plants I'm familiar with. Possessing wine-like, nutty and fruity aspects reminiscent of overripe fruit or even lychee (probably because of the isoambrettolide - a macrocyclic musk that has some "red fruit" or berry characteristics). It also has some palmitic acid (which gives it a "fatty" or "oily" aspect). But most importantly - it is very rich in ambrettolide, which smells like what we learned to identify as "white musk" - clean, sweet, slightly floral or even soapy, and with berry undertones as well.

Ambrette Seed (Abelmoschus moschatos)

Ambrette also has medicinal benefits as well: to ease indigestion, cramps and nervous dyspepsia, and also can be ground made into an emulsion with milk to treat itchy skin.

And of course - ambrette seed is considered an aphrodisiac, both as a perfume and incense material and also in its less known culinary uses. It is used as spice in the East, either on its own or within exotic spice blends such as Moroccan Ras El Hanout (which was originally an aphrodisiac spice blend, by the way, and often calls for animal ingredients such as Spanish Fly, ambergris or musk). Ambrette seeds are also used by Arabs to flavour coffee (much like they do with cardamom seeds). The tincture is used to flavour liquors and tobacco - although I doubt that either will do you much good as aphrodisiac agents!

For my 3rd annual aphrodisiac tea party in February 12th, 2012 I will be serving my guests ambrette seeds in the Ras El Hanout spice blend I'll create, and also will infuse them in chocolate ganache to create aphrodisiac white chocolate truffles. You may also want to think about infusing ambrette seed in warm milk alone or along with vanilla and orris - or add it to sahleb and warm puddings of that nature. They may also work wonders in semolina desserts (cookies, harissas, etc.) along with spices such as coriander, cardamom and rosewater - in which case you should grind them before use and add like you would any other spice.

It's very unlikely you will find ambrette seed in your local spice shop, so you will have to find it online. Look for shelled but whole, un-ground seeds, as the fatty and oily components inside the seeds can easily get rancid once exposed to the air, which will greatly affect the scent and aroma. It's the skin of the tiny seeds that possesses most of the aroma anyway, so grind just as much as you need for immediate use and store them whole in an airtight container and away from heat, light and moisture - where they will remain fragrant profile for years.

I adore ambrette seed as a perfume material and use it in countless of my perfumes, but most notably in Cabaret, Sahleb, Tamya, Espionage and Zangvil, where its subtle musky notes come through and greatly complement the floral, powdery and ambery notes. It's so delicate, and really brings out the best of florals. Together with the flower essences (i.e.: rose, orange blossom, jasmine and tuberose) it really transforms - similarly to ambergris - and opens up on on the skin to what is definitely what I would call an aphrodisiac.

Perfumes containing ambrette seeds calm the mind and make me feel connected to my own skin, and to me that's what aphrodisiacs should be all about. They don't necessarily need to transport you into a far away exotic land or make you feel like some mythological sex goddess or act as a non-stop viagra dispensing machine (not that one like that exists, last time I checked) - but silently turn a little key and make the necessary switch from the worries of everyday life into something more sensual and pleasing that allows for things to happen. I suspect the "trick" of ambrette seed is two-fold: the fact that it helps to ease stress and nervousness, and also its stark resemblance to human skin (it is, somewhat, reminiscent of the scent of a baby's head too!). So wear a perfume with an ambrette seed in its base, rather than a synthetic musk, and enjoy the subtle yet powerful action of true botanical aphrodisiac.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sweet Anthem in Seattle - our new reatiler!

I've just received the news that 6 of my perfumes have safely crossed the border, with snow and all, and landed at Sweet Anthem in Seattle!

This unique gallery boutique is dedicated to West Coast perfumes, and carries indie brands such as Rebel and Mercury, Gabriel's Aunt, and the house's line, Sweet Anthem, by Meredith Smith who curates this fragrant gallery and also teaches workshops and classes.

Sweet Anthem is the first shop in the USA to carry my newest fragrances: Orcas and Zangvil (oh, wait, it's actually the first in the whole world besides my studio to offer Zangvil!).
visit them in person to explore the other 4 scents - Espionage, Film Noir, Roses et Chocolat and White Potion!

6021-B California Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98136 (map)
Wed-Sat, 11am-6pm

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Etrog Breakthrough

Etrog perfume has been in the making since 2008, when I started collecting tinctures of the fruit (the first batch was created for me by my dear mother). It's been a long process, which was undermined by the scarcity of the fruit, which is precisely what makes it so appealing to create a perfume for.

Shortage of supplies is the first most difficult thing in creating this perfume. The fruit is grown in two places - Calabria (Italy) and in Israel - where it has a religious significance and is grown especially for display during the holiday of Sukkot. So much so, that at single fruit (and not even a very good quality at that - we're most likely looking at fruit that has traveled by boat and whose peel is very far from being plump and fresh) - would start at $40 each.

Thankfully, in Sukkot 2008, I stumbled upon the Sukkah Mobile driven by the very kind and generous Rabbi Binyomin Bitton of Chabad Downtown in Vancouver. He not only told me where I can find citron fruit for myself, but also was happy to donate his own Etrogim at the end of the holiday for all of my perfuming needs. Of course, that year it was not possible because it was a "Shmita" year - and these etrogim were not allowed to be used for any other purpose but for displaying and praying upon during Sukkot. So I had to wait another year before receiving 4 etrogim from him and his sons. Ever since then, he saves me the Etrogim every year!

Meanwhile, there were other elements missing. Green myrtle, which I finally found the oil for. As well as citron peel oil, which I still kept looking for despite its scarcity. It finally turned up, and I have just received the shipment this week!

The oil, however, does not quite resemble the fresh fruit as I imagine it from childhood; nor the (not so fresh fruit) which one can purchase from Chabad or other synagogues in the fall before Sukkot. It does not quite do justice to the heavenly, aromatic, perfumed more than a typical citrus note would be - which resembles pineapple, flowers and is delicate and sublime (that is the best way I can describe citron's scent). It's more lemony than I would have liked it to be. Far too lemony, albeit very lively.

April snow

Thankfully, along with the same package of oils, I've also received another floral note which I was never too keen on working with but curious nevertheless: Poplar bud absolute. Pouring this scent into its bottle, it looks like melted butter, dotted with milk solids that couldn't quite melt in the heat. However, it has an aroma that is more medicinal than floral. More than anything else it reminds me of propolis (the intense smelling sticky resinous substance bees use to seal their hives with; it's also extremely valuable for its therapeutic uses:it's an antibiotic, anti microbial and anti fungal, strengthens the immune system, and is useful in treating burns as well). But it also reminds me of the white part of the citrus peel - which is exactly what I was after with the Etrog perfume. So now that my main theme oils are in (citron and myrtle - both of which are symbols of the holiday of Sukkot), and my floral heart is figured out, I think I can finally get into full swing of my perfume creation, and have it ready for you in the summer. It will be a Jewish Eau de Cologne!

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Grin Body Oil Reviewed by Beauty Huile

"...ostensibly minimalist in the bottle, but profoundly dazzling on the skin. Her experiments with melding florals with earthy anything seem to pour forth with the suggestion of some unworldly ebb & flow and energy".
Visit Beauty Huile blog to read Nav's review of my Grin Body Oil.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Morning Notes from Coal Harbour

Morning Notes from Coal Harbour

One of my favourite ways to start the day is a little walk in Coal Harbour. Just a few blocks down Bute Street you'll find Harbour Green park and a little aquaplane airport, from which you can take off any time of the day and fly to Victoria, Nanaimo, the Sunshine Coasts and who knows where else...

I call this my little "morning commute", a necessary piece of fake routine that's paramount for the well-being of someone working from their residential space, in a city that never stops raining. It's easy to find excuses to never leave the house (all good ones too - work that needs to be done, errands around the house, and the desire to throw in a good Pilates routine by the fireplace before doing anything else). But this breath of fresh air, the little connection to the world around me (no matter how alienated and cold it might seem from the warmth of my own abode, and never mind that half of the people outside are absorbed in their cellphones).

Coal Harbour is increasingly populated by taller and larger glass towers, which are pretty - but also completely block the sun in the afternoon. That's why I save Sunset Beach for my evening walks... And in summer mornings (which is when the above photo was taken, though it's hard to tell the season from this photograph...), the green grass is dewy and sometimes even intensely fragrant if it was just cut (which it was on the morning when I took these notes).

My favourite part of my faux daily commute is watching the airplanes take off the water, waiting for that exact moment in time and space where the splashy, noisy trail they leave in the water disappears, and they transform from a fast surfing duck into a flying hawk, circling above the harbour before heading to their destination. And of course - this doesn't come without smell either. Jet fuel never smelled sweeter and more exotic then when mingled with the salty air of seaweed drying in the sun at low tide. Animalic, fishy and verging on the disgusting, but smells like music to my nose.

Last night I finally received the missing piece - one raw material that I terribly needed to get started on this perfume: seaweed absolute. Unlike the seaweed oil I have used in New Orleans and Orcas - this one in full strength is quite disgusting actually; unless you think of it as a packet of hijiki seaweed with the potential of becoming a favourite dish...

And so my composing have began, and not on a very positive note, naturally. I added the seaweed absolute along with a few essences that will make the "jet fuel" accord and the result is, ahum, maybe realistic enough to remind one of the real-life source of inspiration - but certainly not what I'd put on before a night on the town. Or any time, for that matter. However, I stopped right at the exact moment before I would waste too much material and started contemplating juxtaposing this horrific accord with other more delicate and refreshing notes of cut grass, linden blossom and such (all of which remind me of Coal Harbour, of course) and I think I'm off to a pretty good start in my adventure. As long as I don't use it as an excuse to not leave the house tomorrow morning...

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Siskiyou Cedar Soap

Juniper Ridge soaps

There is hardly anything I like better than receiving surprise packages in the mail. Be it an Amazon order I totally forgotten about, or better yet - care package from my family in Israel, or generous fragrant gifts from fellow perfumers.

The presents I got in the mail this winter from Hall Newbegin of Juniper Ridge were one of the highlights of the season. When I picked this package from the post office, it emitted the most profoundly outdoorsy scent of conifer imaginable. It was also extremely large for what I was expecting (to be fair, I knew there was a package coming from him because we connected on twitter of the creation of his new solid perfume line and he promised to send me a sample a while back). But inside it were also 2 bars of soap, as well as 2 room sprays, which accounts for the large box that I had to carry along Robson street, with my nose glued to the cracks in the carton box to get a whiff of Northern California's conifer forests as I go along...

I was first acquainted with Juniper Ridge's line in my visit to Strange Invisible Perfumes' boutique in Venice, California, back in 2009. I couldn't quite decide if it was innovative or cunning to put a bunch of coniferous needles in a drawstring bag and call it "sachet". But being from a place in the world even more abundant with needles than you can hope for - I didn't buy any as souvenir. All the same, the name stuck in my head and I would occasionally see them pop up at Whole Foods. It is completely thanks to the internet though, and in this case - twitter - that I got to know more about what they really do. When I got a notice of a twitter account with the name "wildflowerhiker" following me - I had to look into it and found out that the account owner finds nothing better to spend his time than hike around Northern California and collect wild plants for infusions, distilling and making sachets, soaps and more, and quickly discovered he was also working on perfumes inspired by Northern California's wilderness - using its own plants, naturally. And so we connected.

But back to the Siskiyou Cedar soap - which is what this post is all about: I have to preface with the notion that I'm very picky about soaps. Especially soap bars, which often can be drying. Even those that are made of wonderful oils such as olive, coconut and such can be painfully drying to the skin if they are not done properly. And when it comes to soap - I usually stick to one bar and just stock pile it for eternity (soap bars also make excellent closet "sachets" of sorts so they never are really just being "stored" per-se). My expectations for a soap bar are high: it has to leave my skin so happy that I won't even need a body lotion or a body oil after. I like being low-maintenance, and use oils and such only for an extra special occasion...

Well, the Siskiyou Cedar was a pleasant surprise because it did just that. It has amazing lather, and leaves my skin as happy as it ever wished to be, sans any urging desire to restore moisture after. And the best part of it all, of course, is its smell. I've never been to Siskiyou county, but I can tell you that this is a very authentic Northwester coniferous scent. It actually reminds me of redwoods, which dominate Northern California's coastal forests and bathing with this bright green bar in my hand I feel like I'm holding a portkey to an outdoors hot tub situated under redwood trees. I can see the stars gazing at me through the branches, sending glitters of light through a very cold night that hugs the steamy bath with darkness and serene mystery.

Ingredients: fresh extraction of wild Port Orford Cedar trimmings: saponified olive, coconut and palm oils, shea butter. 100% scented and colored with real wild Port Orford Cedar trimmings, no essential oils or colors added. Mild, all vegetable oil base superfatted with shea butter for an extra moisturizing face & body soap. Large 3.5 ounce bar lasts about a month.

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Saturday, January 07, 2012

Jeanne Rose Celebrates her 75th Birthday!

Happy birthday to Jeanne Rose, who celebrates her 75th birthday!
Jeanne is a leading aromatherpist, herbalist and an educator (she even teaches how to distill your own essential oils or hydrosols!), as well as pioneer in the field of natural perfumery. She wrote 29 books on the subject, and still works. I've met her briefly in San Francisco at Yosh's house in July and was amazed at her energy and vitality, not to mention how beautiful she is. Life certainly does not stop or become any boring as you age ;-)

To read more about her work, education, books and aromatherapy line and about her lifetime achievements on Perfume Pharmer, and her website, of course:


Thursday, January 05, 2012

Wedding Perfumes Featured in the Georgia Straight

Funky wedding flair for fashionable brides and grooms:
The Georgia Straight reviews the best of Vancouver's services for brides and grooms, including yours truly's custom bridal perfumes and colognes for the grooms to be!

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A Scent of a Man

I'd take pumpkin pie and lavender ANY DAY over Good & Plenty and cucumber... And smoke is one of the sexiest scents there are, in my humble opinion, not to mention there are more than a handful of men's colognes that I love smelling, with or without a man attached to them.
Do women really have that bad of a taste in fragrance, or am I just an oddball?!

The Los Angeles Times talks about masculine scents in "A scent of a man".

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Monday, January 02, 2012

Dreams, Process and Goals

With the new year, come what most people call "resolutions". Annual cycles of any sort (no matter which calendar or landmarks you're using), offers an opportunity to reflect, re-assess our values, and set goals for bettering ourselves and the world around us. I've been a long-time believer that doing what you love every day, dedicating even a small amount of time each day to the things that really count - will bring success and a sense of accomplishment in an otherwise pretty chaotic and stressful world. I'm pretty happy with the daily routine I've established over the years so you won't see me signing up for any special classes at the gym just in January or opting for some crazy fad diet. I like to keep my life balanced and healthy year around. And I believe, that unless I'm traveling, I'm doing a pretty good job. This routine (a very boring name for something that I find quite magical and crucial for my own happiness) seems to keep my life balanced, which is not an easy feat being a one-woman-show in every area in my life (for those who are late comers to this blog - my business is a one woman show, and so is my household, where I am the only responsible adult caring for my teenage daughter who's experiencing a rather jolly autistic life).

So instead of resolutions, I've decided to set very specific goals for this year. And perhaps, with the peer pressure I'm putting on myself announcing it to the world on this blog (well, I know not ALL of the world is reading it!). One of them is finishing and publishing my book .
The other goals are traveling to fun places, besides visiting my family in Israel. For the first time ever in my life I'm actually feeling wanderlust. And for that, I will have to save a little fortune, especially since I'll be traveling with my daughter most of the time... So first I will have to work even harder than I ever have, and then we shall see...

Process is one of the most fascinating thing. Processing information. Creative process. They're all so personal, whimsical, and irrational. But in the end - once everything is completed - it all makes sense. And the process has such a huge impact on what the end "product" or "conclusion" as well.

Being a task-oriented person, I have a tendency to get swallowed and consumed by certain projects. It's not so much that I am focused on the end result, as much as I just get very carried away with completing each aspect of the project. And it's not that I don't enjoy the process. It's just that it becomes very much of a physically painful non-stop thing. Be it writing a mass email (something that takes me one day of work at best - and more realistically, 2-3 working days, to put together all the content, photographs and programming). Database updates are just as worst, and so is filing my taxes. Once I sit down to do it - I will very unlikely leave my seat till the job is done. Which is why I often procrastinate the getting started part...

I'm trying to change my ways this year so it doesn't hurt so much... And the first step is think about it differently. What if the task wasn't finishing up the whole book about at least 100 essential oils that I'm working on? How about - my task is to dedicate an hour each day for writing about one. It will only take 100 days to get through them, and won't hurt nearly as much. And 100 days is just a little over three months. Not bad at all.

I've done a similar thing last year when I had to transition from one method of measurement to another in my formulas. It meant needing to weight out and record each formula again, at least twice. Lord, was it tedious. I was not looking forward to it. But how I went about it was that I did it with formulas that I needed to mix up a new batch for anyway. And I'm almost done with that - I've got only about half a dozen perfumes left that require this attention. And I actually quite enjoyed it - learning a lot in the process.

I hope that with this new approach of mine, of just taking one day at a time, and breaking down my tasks (so that my task-oriented personality stays happy and feels accomplishments every day, instead of frustrations about not being able to write about 100 oils all in one day). This is quite a mammoth project, and it was in the making for quite sometime. It really deserves to materialize into more than just a few notes here and there for several of the raw materials I work with. I really want to give each one of them a nice little chapter. In a lot of ways, each materials is a chapter in my own life - so there is more to it for me than just analyzing their scents and looking up information in reference books. It's creative in more ways than I can tell you right now. You will just have to read for yourself once the book is ready!


Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year!

2012 Australia by tim phillips photos
2012 Australia, a photo by tim phillips photos on Flickr.
Happy New Year, SmellyBloggers!

Wishing you a wonderful year of learning, expanding your olfactory consciousness and and all-around fabulous 2012!

I hope that SmellyBlog will bring you the information you were seeking, and many more fragrant stories that will surprise, intrigue and entice you.

Thank you for reading, commenting and supporting SmellyBlog and Ayala Moriel Parfums!