Wednesday 22 June 2016

Versatile courgette side dish

While I love cooking, I don't really enjoy doing it every day. My best dishes are created when I'm in the mood to experiment and feeling the vibe. The rest of the time I fall back on easy to put together dishes, that can be batch cooked and stored for several days (that way I can avoid the week of take-out trap because I'm so busy + hungry).

With the abundance of courgettes during summer, it would be almost rude not to take advantage of them. The beauty of this side dish is that it goes with most savoury things (like rice, buckwheat, potatoes), can also be used as a dip or spread and it is easily adjustable so you can bring in new flavours depending on what you have in your cupboard.

The Base ingredients:

2 medium courgettes grated

2 small carrots grated (you want to have slightly less carrot to courgette ratio)

1/2 jar of tomatoes (or use passata instead, or 2 medium fresh tomatoes)

1 small red onion

1/4 teaspoon of salt (sea salt or pink Himalayan salt)

1/2 teaspoon coconut oil

To Spice things up:

1/4 of fresh chilli (or more if you can handle)

small bunch of coriander


2 cloves of garlic

black pepper to taste


roasted bell pepper (or any sweet pepper)

small bunch of parsley

courgette dish

1. Heat up the coconut oil in a pan, add onions, carrots and courgette cooking on medium/high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add half a glass of water and cover with a lid, turn down the heat slightly, leave to cook for about 15 minutes until soft.

2. Add tomatoes and chilli if using, plus a little bit of salt, and top up with a little water if needed. Cover and cook fo further 20 minutes. Take of the heat, add the rest of the spices/herbs/roast pepper if using. and salt.

It will last in the fridge for 3-4 days, play around with different spice combos to give it your own twist.

Thursday 16 June 2016

New look | Herbfarmacy

When a brand announces a new look it always brings up a mixture of emotions: excitement and a little bit of dread, you just never know which way it is going to go (and of course I wonder if the packaging is the only thing that is changing). In the good old days, when Love Lula used to be owned by Claire Braithwaite and sent out cute inspirational cards with every order, on their site I first came across herbfarmacy. Balancing face cream was the first product I ever tried from the brand, the funny thing is I'm sure even at that time Herbfarmacy weren't knew to the game of organic skincare. Over the years I have come to regard them as a solid reliable brand, but let's face it, with the sudden explosion of the green beauty scene it is easy to get lost. 

Herbfarmacy has become like a pair of my favourite but slightly worn out jeans, I know they fit perfectly and show off certain assets in a very flattering way, and of course I wear them from time to time, but not exactly running up to my girlfriends screaming " Check out these jeans, don't they look fantastic?". Now it seems my old favourites have been brought back, with the same cut, the same fit, but also some extra cool detailing, so while these new jeans do exactly what they did before, well they look all sparkly and worth more than a few mentions. OK I'm done with the metaphor, it maybe shallow to talk about packaging, but I am not one to shy away from shallow pursuits (you know, everything in moderation is my motto). So let's dive into Herbfarmacy's new look and overanalyse it.

The jars and bottles are now emerald green glass, aside from the fact that it is just gorgeous, it turns out that when they first launched green glass was what they wanted to go with, but went for clear glass at the last moment, as they didn't want to clash with another brand who was using the same coloured glass. In a way this is like coming home, bringing back the original vision for herbfarmacy. The illustrated labels have been their signature from the get go, but now this print feels a lot more modern, and the terracotta red background adds a new twist to the overall look. Finally there is also a super cool logo on the lids of the jars and on the fronts of the bottles. The logo personifies the view of the hills on the herbfarmacy farm. So when you put all of these together: we have terracotta label representing the fertile soil, green glass representing plants and growth, botanical print showing off herbs and flowers, and the logo giving you a look at the rolling hills of where it all grows. Each jar and bottle is basically a visual story of where your products comes from.

Situated in the Welsh borders, the organic five acre Herfodshire farm established over 32 years ago is where the magic happens. The organic seedlings are hand sown, time is given for the plants to grow and reach their full potential, before being handpicked and turned into beautiful tinctures and extracts. The herbs grown on the farm are not used for essential oils, they are turned into macerated oils or water extracts, which become the bases of all products in the Herbfarmacy range. The most famous being the Marshmallow root.

The roots of marshmallow (the plant of course, not the gooey stuff that marshmallow man is made of) contain soft mucilages that become gel-like in water. In fact if you get your hands on a fresh root, and break a little bit you can feel it for yourself. The inside of the root when is super silky smooth to the touch, it is pretty incredible. These mucilages attract and hold moisture in the surface of the skin, not surprisingly this herb features in quite a few of the products (including Marshmallow and vanilla lipbalm which I have previously reviewed here). 

Other superstars are calendula and echinacea. While calendula, aka marigold, probably needs no introduction, it is an incredibly soothing and anti-inflammatory herb, amazing at calming sensitive and troubled skin. Echinacea is well known as a cold remedy, but it turns out as a mild astringent it is great for toning, and in creams for oily skin types (it is also a hit with bees and butterflies, always a good thing).

As well as a great range of skincare, herbfarmacy has an incredible selection of balms. Multipurpose mallow beauty balm, that can be used as a cleanser, moisturiser and even targeted fine lines treat and skin rescue balm for skin irritation and redness, these two are just the tip of the iceberg. Meditation, easy breathing, bruises, muscle tension, itchy skin, you name it they have a balm for it. I could create a wellbeing cabinet with all these jars (hm maybe I should)!

I have special respect for brands that grow their plants, really understand how to get the most out of them, and have genuine love for the land. To me they always stand head and shoulders above the rest, of course it doesn't hurt if the packaging is gorgeous. Every time I pick up a Herbfarmacy jar I fall in love with it a little bit more. There is just something about it, like a song that you like at first listen, but each time you hear it,  you just enjoy it more and more. Hello gorgeous green bottles, welcome to my top shelf, you are here to stay.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

The art of perfume with A.S apothecary

There is something incredibly mysterious about perfume, from the way it develops on your skin throughout the day, revealing new layers as the time goes by, to how it can make you feel and bring up forgotten memories. Yet scent can be so polarizing, it is almost impossible to find a perfume that everyone loves, and of course it will likely smell entirely differently on different people due to our own body chemistry. Perfume making is part art and part science, it can be incredibly rewarding yet equally frustrating, this is something that requires true passion.

the peridot pepper

Arriving for the perfume making class taught by Amanda Saurin, the incredible force of nature behind the A.S apothecary, I was met by Pepper (super fluffy and energetic border collie). Amanda's workshop is situated on a working organic farm in Lewes, here she grows some of the plants that are used in the skincare line, as well as hosting courses on gardening, distilling and scent.

After a short introduction from Amanda about what she does (in her own words "Life is about racing around and picking plants"), what we will be learning on the day and saying a few words about ourselves, we move on to the heart of making perfume: choosing essential oils. straight from the beginning we are told that all oils are not equal, and that there is a great deal of difference between what is industrially and artisanally produced. One of those differences is time, when it comes to industrial production time is of the essence, large amounts of plant material is pushed into great huge (usually stainless steel) stills that are closed at the top, with steam being pumped from the bottom, there is nothing gentle about this process.

the peridot copper still

With artisanal production the focus is on getting the best out of the plants, when copper stills are used the scent becomes sweeter (from the reaction of plant material with the metal), the process is much gentler and the still would run for hours (time varying depending on what plants are being distilled averaging on 14 hours), and the flower water (a by-product of essential oils) is just as important as the essential oil produced (sometimes even more so). The best way to see the difference (or should I say smell in this case?) is to experience it for yourself. Different essential oils and flower waters were passed round the table, some cheaper store-bought essential oils and their namesakes from some of the suppliers Amanda works with, and the floral waters that she distilled herself. There was just no comparison between the orange and grapefruit essential oils that Amanda brought from Cyprus and their inexpensive counterparts (this is not to say that price of something is a good indication of quality, it is not necessarily the case, but if you find some deal that seems to be too good to be true it probably is, especially if we are talking about rose essential oils).

the peridot rose oil

Rose oil is one of the most expensive on the market, most of the time it is sold in a dilution for that reason. Pure rose oil is green in colour and is crystalline, it only becomes liquid when heated. The country of origin makes a big difference to the scent profile. It takes a huge amount of petals to produce 1 ml of this oil, and with the bombing of Rose farms in Syria the Damask rose oil will be in short supply. Orange blossom (Neroli), one of my favourite scents, is very time-consuming in  harvesting. The flowers are so fragile, that each one needs to be picked individually for the essential oil to be produced.

The next step was to decide what oils would makeup our perfume. Time to pick the base, middle and top notes. Amanda pre-mixed the essential oils with alcohol, and we took turns dipping paper strips in different solutions and choosing our top 3 from each category starting with top notes (writing down a rating and how we feel about each one). After deciding what 3 essential oils would make our top notes, we held the three relevant strips of paper together, varying their hight to decide what ratio of each should be included. The next step was to painstakingly fill up a bottle drop by drop in the exact ratio, before repeating the process with middle and base notes.

the peridot strawberries

After a lunch break of delicious food and a cup coffee it was time to decide on the ratio of top, middle and base notes (this time we had to do it without Amanda's eagle eye, we had to figure it out for ourselves). Of course it had to be added one drop at a time, requiring patience, steady hands and good deal of concentration not to lose the count. The last step was to decide if we wanted to mix our perfume solution with plain water or a floral water to give our perfume another dimension. We took home the perfume that we made and what was left in the bottles of top, middle, and base notes.

the peridot final perfume

Through the day Amanda shared lots of tips and tricks that she learned on her journey from being a lawyer to becoming and artisanal distiller, plant grower/picker, perfumer, skincare formulator and all around extraordinary craftswoman (we were all sworn to secrecy and I am taking those with me to the grave, sorry). Her passion for plants is so incredibly infectious, that I left the workshop with a renewed passion not only for perfume but for artisan beauty.

the peridot AS apothecary

The amount of work that goes into creating products when you are involved at every step of the way: from planting, growing, distilling and mixing, is just astounding. A.S apothecary to me embodies quality over quantity, once you experience how incredible botanicals can be, you won't want to go back.

Thursday 9 June 2016

The illusion of power

Knowledge is power. So why is it that the more I know the more I realise how little power I actually have? We live in an age where information is thrown at us on the daily whether we want it or not. Even without turning on a news channel or owning a TV, if you have access to the Internet and facebook/twitter/instagram you are likely up to date with the latest shock and horror stories.  The question is do you have the tools necessary to figure out what is real and what is BS? This not the question of intelligence, street smarts or even expertise. It is funny how when you start researching any industry be it food, fashion, beauty, etc you soon start seeing similarities with regards to hidden dark corners, dishonesty, misinformation and lack of responsibility.

Let's get a couple of things straight: there are very few certainties (if any), when it comes to natural order of things, science or life in general. So many things through the history of humanity that used to be considered as undeniable, undisputed facts have come to be disproved. Our societies have seen remarkable transformation, so why is it when it comes to our daily lives we seem to be rather accepting of the status quo and believing that it isn't in our power to create real and lasting change? Why is that we are so content with the superficial power of our consumer choices? 

Making decisions on incomplete, often biased studies, when it comes to food and beauty products. Purchasing clothing based on convenience of what is available to us. Being saddled with the full responsibility for the potential health consequences of our nutritional choices, or wanting to appear more attractive through the use of beauty products. Because somehow it is up to us as individuals to understand potential risks of what is in our lotion, or in our food, because we are adults? 

Never mind the fact that large proportions of population leave formal education by the age of sixteen in the rich countries (we are not even talking about what is going on in the so called developing world), and the quality of education varies ridiculously between school to school, country to country. Yet we are responsible for our own wellbeing, and we are told that the things sold to us in the shops are there because we want them. How is that exactly? When given a choice, with explanation of all the consequences and effects that certain ingredients have on our bodies, what mother would choose to give their child food with colourants that could potentially cause their child ADHD? But I mean it is not certain, and in small quantities it is OK right, so lets just roll with it.

Going to an attraction park and not packing a lunch with me (admittedly an oversight), it turns out that my only food options are chips, sandwiches, burgers, pasta, or soup (on a hot summer day), so how exactly do I show my consumer power and preferences for healthy food... oh that is right, I don't, I go to eat elsewhere (where is that exactly when you are in middle of nowhere?). So I get a stupid sandwich, or go hungry. 

How am I supposed to definitively make up my mind on whether or not organic food and beauty is worth it when the supposedly leading scientific minds keep playing tug of war with their findings? Because of course I have time, money, and the presence of mind to subscribe to all the research articles and publications in the fields of environment, nutrition, cosmetic chemistry, and also keep an eye on what goes on in the field of economics, and politics (not of just my own country mind you, but worldwide), read them, and without fail figure out what is the absolute truth. Then I go to the shops and vote with my wallet for the real change in the world. Because I am an all powerful consumer, and if I just keep shopping for fair trade goods, organic produce and natural beauty I am going to change the world. It is up to me and all the other consumers, it is our collective responsibility as walking, talking ATMs to show big business that we are against child labour, food that makes us sick, and beauty products with questionable ingredients. Consumers are ultimately responsible for not only what goes on in the supply chain and the environmental impact of production industries in distant countries, they are also responsible for the effects that cosmetics have on us purely by the simple act of buying one product over another. You have the power to buy or not to buy, with power comes great responsibility.

So now with my new found power, I am drastically changing my shopping habits, yet my budget is still the same. I buy less, a lot less, since instead of 5 dresses I can now only afford 1, and what happens if every single person does the same, what happens then? Well there aren't that many dresses being sold, so either price goes down to encourage people to shop more or all those people who used to make dresses have to find themselves another type of work. And if the price keeps going down, does this mean that those exact things I wanted to avoid by buying a more expensive dress will just happen again? If overnight the whole world goes organic, all non organic farms have to change or go out of business. It is a similar story with beauty. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well that depends on who you ask. Time does not stay still, change happens whether or not we are open to it. While we are free to choose, we can only choose from the selection that is available to us. If you have no access to clean water, you still have to drink to live.  

My buying choices are made with the best information I have at the time, but I am not a mindless consumer of things, I am a person. I had no part in deciding who made a shirt that is hanging in a department store, and it is very unlikely that I will ever find out who made it. I have to put my trust in instutitions and certifying bodies to tell me that a particular item indeed was made under fair conditions, or made with ingredients that it claims to have. I do not have access to all the relevant information, or even the capacity to process it all if it is presented in a particularly confusing way.

While I am great believer in individuality, and yes one person can really create change, they never do it without the support of other like minded people. There is such a thing as too much emphasis on individuals, no one person is responsible for all that is wrong in the world or indeed for fixing it. Yet when we don't have reliable institutions that actually ensure that what is available to us is indeed safe, that the environment doesn't get polluted, and that workers are treated with respect, it falls on the shoulders of individuals to figure what is what. 

So maybe I should see myself as a consumer and embrace this power of shopping after all? At every corner, being met with different opinions presented as facts based on contradicting  information, I will be making choices. Am I vegan? No... Oh that must mean that I do not care about animal cruelty or the environment, and if I do than I am a delusional hypocrite. Do I use only unpreserved organic skincare? No... well that is unfortunate, but I can't be part of the purist green beauty club. And if I happen to be a blogger but do not share every part of what I do, every single beauty product that I have ever used, and some of the ones I missed out on taliking about aren't too clean, if I share green smoothie recipes but do not document the fact that I had a coke once in a blue moon, that means I am just plain inauthenic. Because as everybody knows, having a blog means everyone is not only entitled to know every sinle thing about me but it is frankly my civic duty to overshare in the name of authenticity.

So please clear some room while I get on my high horse, cloak myself in authenticity and point my finger at all the others who fail to navigate this minefield of information, while shopping into oblivion and shaping the world into a better place with the mighty power of my wallet.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Ministry of herbs tea blends

My love for tea knows no bounds, but if you examine closely what I drink day to day it can't be strictly speaking classified as tea, more appropriate name would be herbal infusions. There are so many blends to choose from and some of them have real health benefits. If you are trying to get more out of your cuppa (be it herbal or otherwise), there is just no comparison to whole leaf, tea bags are very convenient but they don't give the same benifits or taste as whole herbs.

Ministry of Herbs teas are exclusive to Content, and are blended by Medical Herbalist and Nutritional Therapist Jennifer Derham using certified organic herbs. Each one is special in its own way. To make cleaning up easier I brew my loose tea in a french press and enjoy it through out the day.

skin tea peridot

Content Skin Tea is based on botanicals traditionally used to support your entire systems, specifically skin concerns which are a related to hormonal, digesting and detoxifying issues. This is a mix of red clover, marigold, cleavers, alfalfa, hibiscus and orange peel. It isn't the most tastiest of blends but hibiscus and orange peel balance it out nicely, and it does grow on you.  I am pretty balanced in my eating, but I do have a little soft spot for fast food like chips, pizza, and burgers (it is that pickle, gets me every time). Whenever I over indulge my skin lets me know, and without fail, skin tea helps things go back on track. My favourite thing about this blend is that it doubles up as a face steam, and if you pop some ta liquid in a spray bottle once it is cooled, it makes a refreshing summer toner (keep it in he fridge and change the liquid every 2 days as it doesn't stay fresh for long). You can easily mix some of this tea instead of water with clay masks to get double the action.

hayfever tea peridot

Content hayfever tea is not something I use, I bought it for my other half who has mild symptoms and this tea really does the trick (provided that he actually drinks it). I have tried it out of curiosity and Nettle, Elderflower, Lime blossom, Eye bright, and Lemon peel make a very palatable concoction. For what I consider to be a medicinal blend, it tastes almost nice. Most importantly it works for him, so it is a staple in this house.

cleanse tea peridot

Content Cleanse tea combines anti-inflamatory, immune boosting, antioxidant and digestion supporting herbs. This is the sort of tea I enjoy throughout the day when I am feeling a little blah. It has a very light aromatic taste to it, a little on the floral side. I always feel like my body had a reboot after drinking this tea.

dream tea peridot

Content Dream tea is the latest addition to the fold and as you can guess it is a mixture of calming herbs. My brain likes to get over excited and doesn't always want to switch off in the evenings. This tea is my trump card. Rose and lavender in the blend make it such an aromatic infusion, a true pleasure to drink. Oat straw, lemon balm and hops also add to the sedative effects of the blend, and introduce their own flavours to the party. I like to switch of all electronics an hour before bedtime and read while sipping on a cup of Dream tea, good night's sleep guaranteed.