Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Fixing citrus essential oils in cold process soap making

I've been making soaps for many years now, but like many experienced soap makers I have had some trouble when making soaps scented with citrus essential oils. In the past I have tried using benzoin essential oil in an attempt to remedy this, but have never had complete success. Just recently I decided I really wanted to make a successful Lime scented soap and Orange scented soap, both of which have proved to be very popular especially in the hot summer months. So after some extensive research, using the web and various soap making blogs and reference books, I tried out a new formula. I am seriously impressed with the results and thought I would share my tips. First and foremost is to use castor oil to blend the essential oils in. I used an amount that is adequate to superfat a 3 kilo batch of soap and added my chosen blend to it and let it rest for an hour or so while I made the soap itself. To further anchor the citrus oils I used Litsea Cubeba or May Chang essential oil in both the orange and the Lime blends. This oil has quite a strong citrus scent in itself and mimics the scent of lime quite strongly, so I used less in the orange blend and slightly more in the lime blend. To each of the blends I added 10 drops of Patchouli essential oil, which also helps to fix citrus oils and a touch of Cedarwood for the same purpose. For the Lime soap I then used Lime, Lemon, Grapefruit and Bergamot essential oils, and for the Orange soap, Bitter Orange, Sweet Orange, and Bergamot essential oils. Both of the soaps are seriously citrusy and even though I then processed the Cold Process soap in the oven known as Cold Process Hot Process the scent remained intact- I can only imagine that without doing this the scent would maybe be even more intense. So if you've had problems with citrus essential oils, try this method for some seriously impressive results.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Ajo Blanco- chilled almond and garlic soup

Ajo Blanco is a traditional Andalusian dish that dates back to the time of the Moorish occupation of the region. Its beautiful delicate flavour makes it a favorite in the hot summer months, which at the moment with temperatures soaring means its well worth the effort. It's actually a decidedly simple recipe, that makes use of ingredients grown in abundance in the area. Almonds are harvested mostly at the end of June and into the months of July, the garlic aswell. A good quality olive oil is a must so choose an organic variety or if you live here in Spain a Verdial- fruity and sweet that compliments the sharpness of the garlic. This is a soup that can be served with strips of fine cut Jamon Serrano, cubes of cold rock melon or the traditional Moscatel grape thats coming into season right about now.

Ingredients:

100gms almonds in their skins
150gms dense white bread or pan de pueblo
2 cloves of garlic
100 mils extra virgin olive oil
30 mils white wine vinegar
1 litre of cold spring water

Firstly soak the bread in water until softened squeeze out the excess water and set aside.

Put a pan of water on to boil, and pass the almonds for a few minutes in the water, let them cool and then pop them out of their skins.

In a pestle and mortar or in a blender mix the almonds and garlic with a little salt and then add the softened bread until you get a smooth paste.

Slowly add the olive oil, and then the vinegar, finally add the cold water. Adjust the seasoning to taste and put in the fridge to chill fully.

Apart from serving the soup with the aforementioned garnishes you can also top with a little peppermint or drizzle some extra olive oil over the top.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Book Sale- any book 1 euro

Ok everyone, am doing a clearout of all my books, so theres around 200 books available at the reasonable price of 1 euro each at my shop in Ronda, Calle Sevilla 23. So next time you come up this way come and have a look theres more than likely something you havent read yet! The titles range from Vikram Seth to Rudyard Kipling, Isaac Asimov to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Biographies, to reference books, some poetry and quirky modern fiction.

Like alot of people out there I tend to horde books and cant bear to give them away, but with over 1000 books Ive decided to be a little ruthless and cull the ever growing mountain.

So they are all available for perusal, during opening hours- and the proceeds will be going to a good cause!


Andalucia Soap Company Calle Sevilla 23 Ronda 29400 Tel:952 87 22 42 for more information.

Thanks, Sara

Thursday, 11 August 2011

London riots - surprising? not really.

Like most people Ive been following the coverage of the riots in London, with mixed feelings of shock and a sad sense of inevitability . Originally from London myself, and knowing some of the affected areas well, it sadly doesnt really come as much surprise. It's clear to most people that we live in a society that promotes above all consumerism, it's what our society thrives on and were all taught to want, and want with abandon.

We all know that corruption in the government, police force and media is rampant, and we're expected to accept that they will mostly get away with it. The divide in our society between those that have and those that most definately don't widens with the wealth and privelege destined for an ever increasing smaller minority. It's difficult to see how the have-nots in our society can be expected to behave in a law abiding way when our leaders, banks, and media show us its perfectly acceptable to behave in another. It's not that surprising then to see people taking when the opportunity arises. Reading the coverage of the recent riots, it seems that alot of the looters, are just taking advantage of a situation- if you passed an open, defenceless shop loaded with goods would you be able to resist taking something away with you-especially if theres no comeback? Honestly?

The economic situation that's been going on now since 2008 has squeezed everyone to the point where there's literally no room to manoevre, here in Spain it's no different. We all know that the initial incident of the shooting of Mark Duggan isnt the reason why theres mass rioting all over the Uk and the underlying causes are the same here and in most of Europe. However here the people decided to confront the system in a different way. They occupied the town squares all over Spain, demanding an end to the corruption, and solutions to the economic inequality that leaves many living below the poverty line. They set up discussion groups to talk about the way theyd like the society to be, how the government should tackle the economy, social problems etc etc and these proposals have been formed into a political manifesto. As in the Uk they also used social networking sites to organise themselves around the country. They camped in the Squares for months, peacefully protesting and gaining support from the general public. In England the unemployment rate is 8% but here it's over 20% and higher in certain areas, with the young badly affected. There's a real sense of desperation and helplessness, and very little and in many cases no government assistence, but there's no looting, violence or disorder,as yet.

When the trouble dies down, England will be saddled with a huge clean-up, countless millions of damages, both to private and public property and worse a sense of distrust between neighbours, and a badly damaged reputation abroad. Fear will probably end up being the prevailing emotion of most ordinary citizens. We rely on a sense of order and mutual respect inorder to live in large cities or anywhere for that matter, and its clear that the police cant control large numbers of incidents all over the country- where does that leave the ordinary person? England will have to rethink its view of itself, and changes will have to be made. Unfortunately, the violence and destruction doesnt draw sympathy to the symptoms that caused the outbreak, and hopefully they wont be overlooked in the aftermath as a result. Comparing the situation with what went on over here, peaceful protest might be slower to take effect but you only have to look at what Ghandi achieved to see that its more productive in the long run.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Ronda - Ayuntamiento in the red to the tune of 30 million euros

Ronda residents are waking up today to the stark facts that have been laid bare in a letter from the new Mayor,Mari Paz Fernandez that itemises the details of the nearly 30 million euro debt that the new leaders of the Ayuntamiento ( town council) have inherited from their predecessors. It makes sober reading and lays out various measures that will be put in place to minimize future expenses and try to pull Ronda out of the mire.

This is the itemised list of the debt owing:

Banks 15.320.946,61
Providers 10.767.927,91
Social Security 569.158,68
Junta Andalucia 328.391,77
Private Business 1.920.000,00
Unpaid Bills 593.898,18

Total 29.500.323,15

As a result various providers are refusing to supply materials to the council, such as cleaning equipment, office materials, maintenance work, as there are still bills owed from as far back as 2009.

On top of this there is no cash flow to pay the salaries of the various workers in the council.

In face of this massive economic fiasco, the new leadership are proposing a list of measures to reduce future spending these include:

1.A reduction in the amount of advisors to the council by half, and a reduction in the remaining advisors salaries.

2.Suspension of the offical car- only to be used on offical business out of town.

3.Reduction of the Mayor's own salary.

4.The revision of the contracts for the local municipal newspaper and television network.

5. A centralized system for the buying of future materials for the council to reduce the problem of expensive and unnecessary expenses.

6.A restructuring of the municipal platform to improve the efficiency of the funcionaries.

7.A promise to pay providers according to the law as quickly as possible.

This seems to me all very well, but what happens about the actual 30 million euro debt? If town services are to be cut back, which seems to me to be the next logical step in the plan of action, as the Ayuntamiento is one of the main employers in the town there will be more and more people out of work, not paying into the social security system etc etc. Unfortunately this sorry situation is being played out across the country, and although Spain is already on the verge of collapse, I fear the worst is probably yet to come.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Horchata de Chufa- a refreshing summer drink.

I've lived in Spain for nearly 20 years, but last year was the first time I tried the drink Horchata de Chufa, mainly because I've never been a milk drinker, so was put off the idea as when I'd seen it served in bars as it looks just like milk. I was quite surprised by the taste- it has a slightly earthy quality to it and it was pretty refreshing aswell, served ice cold on a hot summers day. At the time I didn't know anything about what it was made from or how it was made and was surprised to find out that it was made from Tiger nuts or Chufas as they're known here which aren't actually nuts at all but a small tuber. Spain and more specifically an area of 8 square kilometers known as Alboraia in the province of Valencia is the only place in Europe where the Tiger nuts are grown, as they need a very particular climate for optimum cultivation. Originally from Egypt, (tiger nuts have been found buried with the Pharoes in vases), the Arabs introduced their cultivation to Spain during their occupation of the country from the 8th to the 13th century. In Spain over 50 million litres of Horchata de Chufa is consumed each year during the hot summer months.

The Tiger nut is an extremely healthy and rich food source, being high in minerals, particularly phosphorus and potassium and the vitamins E and C. Its lactose and gulten free and low in sodium so its suitable for special diets and has a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels.

There are several Tigernut products, but the most popular is the drink known as Horchata de chufa. To make this drink the harvested and carefully dried out chufas are soaked in water for 7 hours and then pulped to produce a milk that is then strained. Sugar is then added and sometimes cinnamon. In Valencia there are bars dedicated to serving this drink with a long donut type cake known as a farton that is dipped in the horchata. So if you're wondering about this drink on your trip to Spain, try it. You can buy it in most supermarkets and its similarly priced to milk or Soy milk.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Places to eat around Ronda - Al Lago Zahara de la Sierra

Having a shop here in Ronda, I'm often asked where are the best places to eat, either in town or further afield. The first place that I always recommend if they are on their way towards Sevilla, or dont mind a picturesque drive of around half an hour, is the restaurant by Lake Zahara, Al lago, which in my opinion has the best food in the area. The restaurant is run by American born chef, Stefan Crites, and his wife Mona, and has fantastic views over the lake and the surrounding mountains outside on the cool and shady terrace. The food is mediterranean based, and they pride themselves on using locally produced mainly organic fruit and vegetables, local cheeses, game and fresh fish brought in specially from the coast.

Its also a great choice for non meateaters, as they serve many dishes that are suitable for vegetarians, which is sometimes quite difficult down here. Another rarity is the selection of homemade desserts, especially if you'd like to have something other than the egg custard based desserts that feature so prominently in most Spanish restaurants. There is even a 3 course menu del dia during the week for only 12 euros a head, which is well priced given the standard of the food and the size of the portions. The restaurant is easy to find as it's located next to the lake at the bottom of the village as you come in from the main road that goes from Ronda to Sevilla, and there's usually plenty of parking just opposite.For a full look at the current menu click here. I will be posting more about restaurants around the area that are well worth a visit, so keep checking, or you could see my posts about Ronda tapas bars if you want something in the town itself.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Pomegranate, walnut and cabbage salad- Ronda style.

In the hot summer months, most people here in Andalusia tend to stick to cold dishes during the daytime leaving the main meal for the cool of the evening, often preferring to eat barbeque style outside on the terrace or in the campo enjoying the cooler breezes that come down from the mountains. Unfortunately after a while it gets a little difficult to think of things to do with lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.

I found this recipe that is different from the usual mixed salad that gets served in most bars and restaurants in a locally published cook book, compiled by residents of Ronda. Its called Ensalada de la Serrania, which translates to Mountain salad.

The base is not lettuce but white cabbage, and it has an interesting salad dressing.

Ingredients:

1 kilo white cabbage
1 kilo walnuts in their shells
1 kilo pomegranates
1 dried red pepper
2 cloves of garlic
1 slice of bread
olive oil for frying
paprika,cumin,salt,pepper and vinegar to taste.

Chop and slice the cabbage into fine strips, place it in a bowl of boiling water and leave until the water goes cool, drain and place in a bowl.

Shell the walnuts and chop into pieces.

Peel open the pomegranates and separate into grains.

Soften the dried red pepper in hot water, meanwhile fry the garlic and bread in olive oil, and then in a pestle and mortar grind into a paste with the spices salt and pepper and add vinegar to taste.

Add the pomegranates seeds and walnuts to the cabbage with a little of the oil from the frying, then toss the salad with the rest of the ingredients, adjust the seasoning to taste.

Actually this salad would also be great in the autumn months when summer vegetables are no longer available. I could anyway eat pomegranates at any time of the year so I think Ill be making this one quite a bit over the coming months.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Castile Soap- Origins and History

Jabon de Castilla or Castile soap originated in Spain, and was named after a region of modern day Spain known then as the Kingdom of Castilla due to the amount of castles that had been built there to reconquer the area back from the Moors.

At that time soap making in northern Europe focused on the use of animal fats, whereas in Spain the abundance of olive oil lead to a pure olive oil soap that became known as Castile soap. Due to its incredible moisturizing properties, this soap became a luxury commodity in the rest of Europe, being a favorite amongst royalty and noblemen. The infamous Louis the fourteenth of France became so hooked that he ordered French soapmakers to make the switch to olive oil, and this tradition continues to this day- commonly known as Savon de Marseille.

Many soaps are sold with the castile label even though some have very little olive oil in their formulations, a true castile soap should have 100% olive oil, and preferably extra virgin olive oil. A pure olive oil soap is unlike other soaps in that it doesnt produce an abundant fluffy lather, but rather a creamy, small bubbled lather that leaves the skin extremely moisturised and is suitable for extremely sensitive skin, babies, and small children. Olive oil is naturally rich in Oleic acid, containing between 60-80% which means that an olive oil is a natural moisturiser helping to attact moisture from the surrounding air inturn keeping skin supple and soft. The other extremely important ingredient in Olive oil is Squalene, and Olive squalene is close in chemical structure to the skins own squalene which means that it can penetrate the skin effectively and inturn this helps the skin to stay moisturized and helps it to naturally regenerate, even helping to heal damaged skin. To find out more about how the my castile soap is made there are more details in this former post

All this makes choosing a Castile soap for your daily hygiene routine a good choice expecially if you have dry and sensitive skin. Or if you are looking for a safe natural soap for newborns or small children. Just remember not to expect the same sort of lathering properties in other soaps, even natural ones.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Migas- a traditional Andalusian tapa.

Here in Ronda in many restaurants and bars you can order a tapa of Migas. Its one of those dishes that just by its name piques the imagination and Im nearly always asked to explain by visitors what it is exactly. Migas is a truly typical example of an Andalusian farmers dish. Years ago when I first came out to Andalusia, this was one of the dishes that my neighbours would cook, when the store cupboard was bare-or to go alongside the spoils of the Mattanza ( Pig slaughter). They also explained to me that there was another version called Gachas that was made during the civil war, when there was nothing else to be found, made from a simple paste of flour and water, cooked. If they were lucky it was sometimes served with honey or pieces of pig fat. Migas as offered here in the bars as a tapa is usually made from pan duro, or hard bread, crumbled into breadcrumbs, or slithered laboriously with a sharp knife, that is then left overnight slightly moistened with a cloth to cover. The most simple version consists of frying the migas in olive oil and garlic until lightly browned, and then serving them with any number of either sweet or savoury accompaniaments such as fried eggs, chorizos, bits of pork belly, or the sweet version with melon, grapes or even chocolate. Usually though they come served on their own to be eaten alongside other tapas.

Migas are thought to have developed during the time of the Moorish occupation of Southern Spain, being similar in style to couscous. Although apparantly the Christians added pork fat inorder to distinguish their dish from the similar dishes of their Arab and Jewish neighbours. Its sometimes also called Migas del Pastor or Shepherds Migas as it was a dish principally eaten in rural areas. It is a bit of an aquired taste but when done properly can be quite delicious especially on a cold winter evening. If you want to try it yourself heres a recipe from a Ronda cookbook.

Ingredients:

1 Kilo of farmer style bread
1/2 a glass of olive oil
4 chorizos
1 bulb of large garlic.
salt

Crumb the bread into small pieces and place in a bowl, slightly moisten the bread with water and cover with a towel. Leave to stand until ready to use or overnight.

In a large heavy frying pan heat the oil and add the garlic and chopped chorizos fry until golden, removing from the oil and set aside.

In the remaining oil fry the bread crumbs until golden, dry and loose. Just before serving add the chorizo and garlic mixture. Serve with marinated olives.

Monday, 25 July 2011

De- stress aromatherapy essential oil blend

Unfortunately we all seem to suffer from the general stress of everyday life, and with the economic climate here in Europe seemingly on a unstoppable downward spiral for many life has become a real hard slog just to get by. Aromatherapy is a great way to combat feelings of anxiety, stress and even depression. One of the most effective essential oils is Geranium. The latin name for this essential oil is Pelargonium graveolens and it is distilled from the stalks and leaves and can be quite green in colour. It is a relatively expensive essential oil but as you only need a few drops a small bottle will go a long way. Geranuim essential oil has a balancing effect on the mind and also on hormone levels and is a useful oil in the treatment of PMS and menopausal problems. Its a great mood lifter and is used to help patients that suffer from anxiety and stress related problems.

In the following blend I have combined the above with Lavender and Bergamot essential oils. Lavender is well known for its ability to calm nervous tension, relieve headaches and promote a sense of calm, whereas the Bergamot aids lack of confidence, anxiety, and depression. As in the insect repellent recipe just add the essential oils to a base of Almond oil, or even any oil you have to hand.

Ingredients:

30 mils Almond oil
15 drops of Geranium
5 drops of Lavender
10 drops of Bergamot

Apply to the pulse points on the wrists, temples and around the neck area.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Natural Aromatherapy Insect Repellent Recipe


This year in Andalucia the insects are abundant- as it was a very wet winter and spring there is lots of water still in the ground, and the insects in particular the mosquitos are prolific. I react very badly to mosquito bites so I really need to protect myself from them. There are several essential oils that are really effective against bites, and I have made myself a blend in a base of sweet almond oil in a roll on that can be put on the areas most affected- around the ankles, arms and I always put a dab or two around the neck. It doesnt smell as bad as commercially bought insect repellents, and has the added bonus of moisturizing the skin.

Recipe:

30mils Almond oil
8 drops Thyme essential oil
16 drops Lemongrass essential oil
8 drops Lavender essential oil
8 drops Peppermint essential oil

If you dont like oil based products you could try the same amount of essential oils in a spray bottle mixed with a floral water preferably lavender.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Andalusian Lamb Caserole- Ronda style

Ok I though it might be a nice idea to share some really typical Ronda recipes, which I sourced through a cook book that was brought out called "Recuerdos de Ronda y su cocina" (Memories of Ronda and its cuisine). The book has been compiled by some residents of Ronda using the most treasured and favorite recipes of the town, often recipes handed down through the generations. Unfortunately as its only a small publication its not readily available and is of course only in Spanish but I managed to get hold of a copy. This recipe uses a very typical method called the "sofrito" which normally uses a mix of tomatoes garlic and onions with stale bread but in this case uses a mix of almonds, garlic and bread.

Ingredients:

1 Kg lamb
200 gms spring onions
200 gms almonds
100 gms pine nuts
4 cloves of garlic
juice of 1 lemon
1 glass of white wine
1 cup of white flour
4 slices of brown bread
1/4 liter of olive oil
1 bay leaf and a pinch of thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Pour the olive oil into a large frying pan and fry the almonds, garlic and bread ripped into small pieces. Once browned take out with a slotted spoon leaving the oil in the pan and in a pestle and mortar pound them into a paste. Next in the remaining oil fry the lamb pieces that have been seasoned and covered in flour until nicely browned. Transfer the lamb, the sofrito of almonds, and all the rest of the ingredients in a caserole dish and cover with water or stock. Cook on a medium heat for around 35 minutes. This dish would traditionally be served with potatoes, and fresh country style bread to mop up all the sauce.

New Soap - Basil, Rosemary and Orange.

This handmade soap has been made to order for a boutique retreat near Ronda. But I was so pleased with the outcome that I then made another batch for sale on my website. The soap has a beautiful pale orange colour that I got by macerating a part of the olive oil in Annatto seeds. This oil I then added to the base oils in the pan. The original brief for the scenting of the soap was to make an aroma that reflected the surroundings of the retreat. I chose a combination of Basil, Rosemary and Orange and the resulting scent is peppery and herbal with a light citrus top note. Basil can be very dominant in essential oil blends so it has to be used sparingly in combination with other essential oils. Basil has a very uplifting effect and is a stimulant and therefore is used in aromatherapy to combat tiredness and aid concentration. As a skin care oil it is useful in balancing oily skin conditions, and due to its anti-bacterial properties it is also an aid in the treatment of acne. It can help to stimulate the blood circulation which is why it is often found in anti-cellulite massage formulas. Combining it with the properties of Rosemary a powerful astringent, and the addition of Orange essential oil that also aids blood flow to the skin its an excellent choice for sufferers from oiliness, acne, or just generally sluggish skin. The uplifting aromas also make it a great choice for morning skin care routines, giving one a helpful pick me up to start the day.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Plaza de Toros ( Bullring) Ronda - Classical Concert conducted by Daniel Barenboim with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

On July the 30th, a Saturday there is a concert by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in the beautiful location of the Plaza de Toros here in Ronda. Conducted by the celebrated Daniel Barenboim, they will be playing two symphonies by Ludwig von Beethoven.

I've always been impressed with the idea behind this orchestra since I first heard about it around the beginning of 2000. In 1999 Daniel Barenboim of Argentine-Israeli descent and Edward Said, a Palestinian-American academic, founded the Orchestra with the idea to provide a platform for the two conflicting nations to come together. Ironically their first workshops were held in the German town of Weimar which gave its name to the ill-fated Weimar Republic that preceded Nazi Germany. Barenboim himself describes the project in these terms: "The Divan was conceived as a project against ignorance. A project against the fact that it is absolutely essential for people to get to know the other, to understand what the other thinks and feels, without necessarily agreeing with it."

Since 2002 the Junta de Andalucia together with a private foundation has provided a base for the Orchestra in the nearby capital of Seville. In 2004 the Barenboim-Said foundation was formed with funding from the Junta de Andalucia to promote education through music projects with the aim of promoting dialogue and coexistence. After a summer of workshops the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra starts its tour and luckily they are coming to Ronda to play in the oldest bullring in Spain. It should be a magical location for such an event and if I can I'll be getting tickets. If you want to book you can at www.elcorteingles.es/entradas or if you are near Ronda you can buy tickets in advance at the ticket office in the Bull Ring.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Easy recipe for luxurious body butter

Ok its summertime and if you are anything like me your skin is beginning to suffer from the sun and the sea. So not being able to find the kind of product I wanted at the price I decided to have a go myself. In the past Ive made lip balms, massage oils and bath bombs but had never tried making creams or body butters. So I had a look online and found some basic instructions and then adapted these to what I had to hand. I was really pleased with the result- a light, quite creamy buttery body butter that melts on impact with the skin. I scented it with pure Jasmin absolut and Tangerine essential oil and it really smells delicious and has a light yellow colour. Jasmin essential oil is recommended for giving the skin back elasticity, and the tangerine as with most citrus oils is great for cellulite issues. So heres the recipe and its pretty easy to do at home but you do need an accurate digital scale. The quantities make around a 100gms in total but its pretty rich so you only need a bit at a time.

Ingredients:

56gms Unrefined Cocoa butter
56gms Jojoba oil
7gms Beeswax pellets
5gms Cornstarch, or rice flour.
7gms Essential oil of choice

Prepare a large bowl with ice cubes in which will later fit another bowl with the oils in.

Using a double boiler, start by melting the beeswax pellets and the cocoa butter until liquid.

In a separate bowl mix the jojoba oil with the cornstarch and the essential oils.

Add the jojoba oil mix to the cocoabutter mix. Then place this bowl into the prepared ice bowl and start to whip with an electric mixer. Keep whipping until the mixture sets up but is still maneageble. Then transfer to your jar or container with a lid. Thats it!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Hair care - Hot oil treatments with essential oils.

A couple of posts ago I wrote about using a solid shampoo bar for washing hair instead of chemical laden high street brands. This post is about using warmed oils combined with essential oils to condition the hair naturally. Essential oils are very useful in treating many conditions including hair problems, such as hair loss, dry itchy scalp or just general poor condition.

The best essential oils to use for hair treatments are Lavender, Rosemary, Lemon, Basil, Peppermint, Chamomile and Sage. These oils can be combined or used alone in a carrier oil such as Jojoba, Almond or Olive oil.

Here are a few recipes to try at home, they are easy to prepare, completely natural and although the initial outlay on essential oils can be expensive, because you only use a few drops at a time they will last a long time.

Hair loss blend.

For best results use 10 drops of Rosemary and 10 drops of Lavender essential oil. Combine the two oils with 100gms of Jojoba oil and store in a dark capped jar. Use the mix every night by applying a few drops to the scalp and massaging thoroughly.
You could also gently heat some of the mix and use it like a hot oil treatment before washing the hair. Massage a small amount into the scalp and hair and wrap in a towel, leave on for 20 mins and then wash out.

Anti Dandruff blend.

Mix 5 drops of Lemon and ten drops of Tea Tree essential oil in 45 gms of carrier oil, such as olive, almond or jojoba. Apply a small amount to the scalp and hair massaging the scalp wrap in a towel, leave on for 20 minutes and then wash hair as normal.

Hair Growth blend.


Combine 5 drop of Sage with 8 drops of Rosemary essential oil in 45 gms of Jojoba oil, take a small amount and massage into the hair and scalp wrap in a towel leave on for 20 mins and then wash out.

As with most natural skin and hair treatments you need patience and consistency to achieve results, remember it's not an overnight cure.

Spanish Traditional Crafts- Jarapas

The Spanish "Jarapa" is actually a rug woven out of bits of surplus material, the technique was originally introduced into Spain by the Moors in the 12th Century and has continued on to this day. Although they are made throughout Andalusia the main production areas are Coy in Murcia and Nijar in Almeria. In Coy there is a museum where you can see them being produced on the original wooden looms.
One of the great things about Jarapas is that they are made from recycled cotton, usually left overs from the textile industry in Catalonia. Using up to 80% recycled cotton each Jarapa is unique in its colour and pattern scheme. They are also extremely hard wearing, and the smaller ones can be washed in a normal household washing machine.

Traditionally the Jarapa was used as a layer between the bed base and the mattress to protect the mattress from wear from the bed springs, but nowadays they are used as wall hangings, bathmats, and floor coverings.

There are many styles of Jarapa but the most common is the Andina, a blend of wide stripes that normally features cream alongside a bright colour. Jarapas can be bought throughout Andalusia, and here in Ronda there is a selection for sale at Rondas natural soap shop on the Calle Sevilla 23 or if youre not in the area you could check out the website for andalucianrugs that offers a wide range of rugs at competitive prices.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Traditional Spanish Crafts- Esparto

Here in Andalucia there is still a strong tradition of using Esparto to weave various objects from baskets to shoes. The Esparto grass comes from the Graminea family and it grows wild in arid and stoney areas, particularly in the provinces of Almeria, Murcia, Alicante and La Mancha. The grass itself grows to about 70 cms in height and has been used since Roman times due to its exceptional hardwearing properties.

There are many uses for Esparto crafts but its mostly used for baskets known as an Esporton that is fairly large with two handles and is used for harvesting and transporting produce such as Olives. The Espuerta is a small mat used in the entrances of houses and you can also get a bigger version that is used like a blind at the windows to shade the interiors from the strong Andalusian sun. An Espartero is the name given to a person that works with Esparto.

The process of collecting Esparto is considerably labor intensive and although it can be collected all year round its best done in the Spring. The Esparto isnt cut but collected in small bunches that are ripped out including the root. Sometimes the remaining plant is then set alight to encourage new growth for the coming year.

Once collected the Esparto is then sorted for the best blades and then tied in bunches and left out in the sun for 40 days to dry it out fully and get its golden colour.

Once its been dried there are two ways of working the Esparto- Esparto Crudo or Esparto Picado. For Esparto Crudo the dried leaves are re-moistened for one or two days to give it back enough flexibility to work with. The Espartero then works the bunches of grass in pairs usually between 13 and 18 pairs plaiting them to make a cinta or long ribbon of esparto. This is then used to make various objects and is sewn together with the Esparto Picado which involves soaking the bunches of dried esparto for another 40 days to increase its resistence and then drying it out to later beat it against a tree trunk inorder to separate the fibres that make up the leaves and with these fibres they make strings with which to bind the plaitted esparto together.
Just near Ronda in the town of Igualeja there is a cooperative of 8 women that make all sorts of objects from Esparto and you can even have things made to order, although it takes several months to complete. Esparto products can be found in most of the handicraft shops in the town and there is also a large amount for sale in the Tourist office of Grazalema. Although quite expensive to buy an esparto object will last almost indefinately.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Spanish medicinal plants- sticky cistrose wound cure

I have been meaning to write something about this plant as it is a fantastic natural wound healer, and general antiseptic. I first found out about the benefits of Jarra as they call it here in Spain through my Spanish campesino neighbours. When I first came out here some twenty years ago, they still lived on the neighbouring cortijo in very much the same way as they had for centuries. They had no transport except an ancient donkey called Rosario, washed their plates with a furry herb that only grew on the north facing slopes of the mountain, made their own espadrilles and seats for their wooden chairs with esparto, made from wild grass type plants and basically lived off their animals, wild foods and small vegetable garden. We quickly got our own donkey from a gipsy horse trader from the next but one village, who turned out to be a little unsteady on her feet and was definately not the young 15 year old as promised. To cut a long story short we took her out on a mountain trail for the day and she slipped on a loose rock and ended up falling 50 meters down a steep slope. It took all day to rescue her with the help of our neighbours who coaxed her out using their own donkey as willing leader. Sadly she had a huge wound in her backside that went right the way down her haunch. Manolo came a few hours after we got her back clutching a bunch of what at first glance looked like sticky twigs. He told us to cook them in lots of water for a few hours and then use this to wash her wound with. We did this everyday, having found a nearby crop of the sticky cist rose, and within two weeks the wound was all but gone. I cant quite describe the wonderful smell this plant has when its cooked its slightly medicinal but with a lovely fresh, flowery aroma. I have used this cure on our horse in the hot summer months after the vet had been to clean out the wound but thought it would take at least two months to close up completely, and had it closed within 3 weeks. The problem with animals and horses in particular is they hate the smell of medicines, so they shy away from being treated especially if its a deep wound. Using herbal medicine doesnt seem to bother them in the same way and they are much more relaxed about being treated. So next time you need to treat a wound even a deep one and you have access to the mountainsides go out and find this plant. It grows quite tall, about 2 meters and has extremely sticky branches that culminate in sticky pointy leaves. Its best to collect this plant in the early months of the summer when its at its stickiest. In June it also has a large white flower as in the picture. Collect some and cook it up in a pan of boiling water for a couple of hours. The resulting water can also be stored in a carafa or water can. Use a fresh clean cloth soaked in the water to rinse out the wound and do this 2-3 times a day. Believe it or not this water also makes a great aftershave- and its wonderful smell beats any expensive designer perfume!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Creating a Herbal Solid Shampoo bar

Not many people know that much about the moisturizing properties of castor oil, but this oil when used in soap making helps to give the final bar a texture and creaminess unrivalled by any other oil Ive ever used. Formulating a shampoo bar that gives an abundant lather, cleans the hair effectively without stripping it of its natural oils, has to in my experience have a fairly high level of castor oil for it to be effective. With a bit of experimentation I created a Herbal Shampoo Bar with approximately a third each of castor, olive and coconut oils and then superfatted it with jojoba oil thats known for its benefits for scalp and hair care.

Many people have problems with dry scalp conditions, that culminate in dandruff or sebhoeric dermatitis that doesnt seem to go away with the chemical based shampoos on the market. Some people are also allergic to some of the chemicals used in High Street brands thus exacerbating the problem even further. Using a blend of essential oils, specifically aimed at scalp problems this bar has a lovely herbal scent with touches of Thyme, Rosemary and Sage. Its very easy to use by just wetting the hair as normal and then rubbing the bar directly on to the hair, its quite amazing how quick it is to lather up just like normal shampoo. Usually one wash is sufficient although if you have very long hair you might need two goes. One thing I would recommend is to rinse the hair and scalp after shampooing with a vinegar rinse. This helps to clear the hair of any soap residue, leaving it beautifully soft and silky.If you are sceptical about using soap as a shampoo you might like to read the following blog which explains in more detail the experience of switching from commercial shampoos to a natural shampoo bar.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Extra moisturizing homemade summer scrub recipe

In the summertime our skin tends to suffer more from dryness. Much of this is to do with over exposure to the suns harmful rays and lots of swimming in drying salty water or chlorinated swimming pools. Its also during the summer that most of us want to look our best for the beach and going out on warm summer nights. One of the best ways to treat your skin is to moisturize and exfoliate at the same time. Getting rid of the skins dead cells, helps with the skins circulation and elimination of toxins through the skins pores. Using a cocoa or shea butter based scrub moisturizes and protects the skin at the same time. There are lots of scrub recipes all over the internet many of which feature oil and either sugar or salt as the base. I like to use a cocoa butter or shea butter based scrub as it moisturizes more intensly and isnt quite so messy in the tub and easier to handle- you dont end up with a runny mess thats difficult to apply. So I thought Id share with you a lovely scrub recipe I found on the web and tried and its really easy to make.

You can also tailor this scrub for different needs by using different combinations of essential oils. If you want to attack cellulite at the same time try combinations of Grapefruit, Basil, Juniper, Rosemary, lemon and Peppermint or Cypress.

You will need: 1/2 cup cocoa/shea butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sea salt
25 drops essential oil
2 vitamin E caplets (to preserve)


Firstly melt the cocoa butter in a double boiler or in a large bowl placed over a pot of simmering water. Remove the cocoa butter from the heat as soon as it has completely melted.

While the cocoa butter is melting mix the salt and sugar getting rid of any clumps.

Then whisk thoroughly the essential oils and the melted cocoa butter and add add the liquid from the vitamin E capsules.

Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients stirring to combine thoroughly.

This scrub can be used immediately or stored in an airtight container and best in a cool and dark place or the fridge.

If you find that the scrub leaves your skin too oily then you can just wash this off with hot soapy water.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Avocado oil- skin care benefits

Avocado oil is made from pressing the soft pulp of the Avocado fruit. Usually mature avocados are used as they have a higher oil content. The pulp is first macerated and then the resulting mass is thoroughly mixed. In the second phase the oil, water and solids are separated by centrifuge. The resulting oil is then stored in stainless steel vats. Avocado oil has such a high chlorophyll content that it is dark green in colour and needs to be bottled in dark bottles to prevent deterioration from light and air.

Rich in vitamins A, D and E alongside lecitin and potassium it is a very deeply penetrating oil and has numerous health benefits on the skin. Being also high in sterolins it is an effective oil in the treatment of age spots, scarring and skin affected by sun damage. Its deeply moisturizing properties also make it ideal for dehydrated skin types helping to regenerate and rejuvenate the skin. There have also been some studies that show that it also helps to boost collagen production lessening the effects of aging. Avocado oil is easily absorbed by the skin and can therefore be used directly to relieve itchy dry skin conditions. In soap making adding Avocado oil to soaps at trace ( which is the stage just before pouring the soap into the molds) makes the soap extra rich and creamy- cleansing the skin but also leaving it smooth and moisturized. I have formulated a lovely Avocado oil soap that is also rich in Shea butter and is the richest soap in the dry skin soap range ideal for super dry, dehydrated skin types or sufferers from excema. Scented delicately with bay and lime essential oils it has a scent that appeals to both men and women.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

One for the boys-Juniper and Ginger - exfoliating, detoxifying natural handmade soap

Ive been trying to make an alternative to my usual tea tree soap for helping in the treatment of acne and problem skin types. I also wanted to create a soap that had a complex but subtle aroma that would also appeal to male customers that often want a soap that deep cleans with a masculine scent. So I decided to combine the woody, refreshing aroma of Juniper essential oil with the warm spicey scent of Ginger in this olive oil rich bar that also has ground rosehips added to gently exfoliate the skin.

Juniper essential oil is an effective treatment for acne sufferers or general oily skin conditions. It has a detoxifying, toning, antiseptic and astringent properties that help to alleviate excess sebum production in the skin and helps to reduce further inflamation and infection. Ginger essential oil adds a warm note and its aroma works effectively on the nervous system helping to reenergize and revitalize.

I think this bar is a welcome addition to the range and has a beautiful creamy colour flecked with dark pinky brown rose hips. To order contact via the website www.handmade-soaps.co.uk but it will be listed shortly!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

July wedding madness - Kate Moss vs Withers-Bourne

Living here in the rather tranquil and sleepy town of Ronda, celebrity weddings seem something of an extravagant, fairytale event that happens somewhere out there in the wider world of glamorous obsession, flamboyant wealth flaunting, and just the right kind of in-crowd followers. To be honest Im not remotely interested in the ludicrous amount of bridesmaids Kate Moss has at her wedding ceremony, her Vintage gown designed by recently disgraced friend John Galliano, or how she managed to stop the traffic in an until recently rural idyll. But one story has got my attention and thats the hilariously funny national debate thats developed around the Withers-Bourne controversy. This anti-fairytale stars a seemingly poisonous future mother-in-law Carolyn Bourne, cultivator of lowly Pinks and Dianthus, and her future daughter in-law Heidi Withers. Mrs Bourne, disgusted at aforementioned's behaviour on a recent stay in the family home, makes the now fateful decision to send an email to the future daughter-in-law to make her disgust clear and make it quite obvious that she really doesnt like the idea of such an etiqueteless individual entering the wider Bourne clan. Heidi after some reflection, then promptly sent the evil missive to some friends and somewhat miraculously it then went viral- a modern phrase that somehow sums up everything. Despite the subsequent silence of both parties, the father of the bride to be decided to add his own character assessment of Mrs Bourne and it really doesnt leave much to the imagination. So now the hottest ticket for the summer is how to get on the guest list of this ill-fated ceremony- where a serious bit of "schadenfreude" will be played out to the glee of a public that seem to have an endless appetite for such antics. I eagerly await the book, the film and of course the T-shirt.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Vintage clothes in Ronda

Ive always loved vintage clothes and as a student would often combine fifties floral swing dresses with tights and Doc Martens. But that was in the early eighties when Vintage was really a dress style for the eclectic or poor students. Rummaging round charity shops was always a delight as there were many great items to be had at bargain prices. Nowadays Vintage has really come into its own with many choosing this style of dressing to achieve an individual look that defies the highstreet chainstore. Some do it for the choice of fabrics, often no longer available in the quality nowadays, unless you are prepared to pay a very high price. Others choose to reuse and recycle often altering clothes to create a new style again. Whatever the reason its a great way to get a beautiful, unusual item at a good price.

Due to a lucky coincidence a freind with a similar passion that verges on the obsessional, has over the last few years amassed a collection of vintage clothing to be envied. Together we decided that it would be interesting to see what the response to Vintage would be in the small mountain town of Ronda in Andalucia where I run a natural soap and handmade gift shop. So now not only do I stock allsorts of handmade gifts many made by talented women of the area, but also a small range of Vintage clothes, mostly dresses but some skirts and tops. So if you happen to like this kind of thing why not pop in and take a look it will take you back in time if nothing else but you might just find a wonderful outfit that makes you stand out from the crowd.

Ronda Natural Soap Shop Calle Sevilla 23 Ronda 29400

Friday, 17 June 2011

Juzcar turns blue for the Smurfs

The news on everyones lips here in Ronda is blue Juzcar. You wouldnt think that turning a picturesque white village in the Alto Genal valley blue would create such a stir, but just about everyone I know is talking about it, going to see it, profiting from it or some I have to say resenting it; albeit in a quiet way. For some reason Sony decided that Juzcar was the perfect setting for the launch of its new Smurf movie The Smurfs 3D- it makes you wonder how they came to find it, let alone set the ball rolling for the mass painting of this sleepy white oops- sorry blue - village.

Historically the Smurfs created by Belgian cartoonist Peyo or Pierre Culliford lived in a land called "le pays maudit" which translates into English as the cursed land, strangely appropriate considering Spains current economic and social woes. They were forced to travel by stork through dense forests, dry deserts and high mountain ranges which is apparantly why they chose Juzcar for the premier- due to the Riscos mountains that surround the village and the dense chestnut forests that cover the steep mountainsides, although they seem to have overlooked that there is a distinct lack of Storks in the area.

Interestingly, the Smurfs apart from having their own language, also had their own economic system. Relying on their own unique skills as a means of currency, and thus in return being given all the necessities of life by the community which at the time lead them to be associated with the communists which wasnt all that good in the cold war climate of the early sixties. I cant help wondering in these tough times whether the country's leaders might be looking to Juzcar and the Smurfs for some much needed inspiration although the country seems to have turned to another shade of blue altogether.

If you want to witness this "blue" phenomenon you had better be quick as the village is set to be painted white again once the furore has died down. In the not too distant future the Smurfs and their ideals will once again be a thing of fantasy and we'll all be back in the real world of serious economic slowdown, crippling unemployment and families on the brink of economic collapse, but for now Juzcar is booming, the painters have jobs and the bars are fit to bursting.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Felted natural handmade soaps

Thanks to my good friend Trudi, I now have some lovely hand felted soaps in stock. Trudi has used high quality Merino wool as the main felting ingredient and fine bamboo silk threads as decoration to make these bars, so they are extra soft and gentle. Felted soaps may look a little unusual, but they really are a wonderfully practical way to use handmade soaps in the shower. By just wetting the felted soap you can use it as an all in one exfoliating body wash. The felt adds to the lathering effect and the wool gently exfoliates without being too scratchy. As you use the soap the felt shrinks with the soap and once its finished you are left with a lovely scented piece of felt that you can then use to perfume inbetween your clothes in the cupboard. If you like you can also make a small slit in the empty pouch and put in another piece of soap. They last extra long, and just need to be left to dry on a soap dish between each use. Felted soaps make an ideal gift particularly for men, as they're so practical and really wash away all the dirt after a hard days work. They are now available in the shop in Ronda and online too.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Dead sea mud bar-exfoliates and detoxifies

Dead sea mud products abound in the cosmetics industry, and luckily I was able to get my hands on some of this magical mud from a friend who came back recently from Jordan. I added it at trace to an olive oil rich soap base, and scented the soap with pure peppermint essential oil. The Dead Sea is the most saline body of water in the world and contains far greater concentrations of minerals than any other ocean (a concentration of 32% minerals compared to other seas, holding approximately 3%). Mud from the Dead Sea contains almost 20 different types of minerals, and in the beauty industry it is renowned for its gentle exfoliating and deep cleansing properties. It helps to tone, hydrate and improve blood circulation which inturn can aid differing skin conditions such as excema and psoriasis but also be a useful treatment for acne sufferers. So this soap is really an ideal all round choice as a general body bar but also for those people that suffer from troubling skin conditions. The Dead sea mud handmade soap bars are now available for sale on my website so why not try one, and treat your skin to a post winter de-tox.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Creamy Oatmeal Exfoliating Handmade soap

Another honey inspired soap, I decided to make this soap because many asked especially for it. Oats have an incredible attraction to water therefore helping to draw and hold moisture to the skin. Finely ground oatmeal also makes a fantastic gentle exfoliant, adhering to what is irritating the skin thereby washing it away with the soap. The benefits of using oatmeal soap include relieving skin irritations and redness from rashes or exposure, reducing itching and moisturizing or softening skin. These benefits make it an effective product for people with eczema, sunburn or allergies, the elderly and young children. Apart from finely ground oatmeal I also added a dollop of organic honey and mild essential oils of sweet orange and ylang ylang. It has a very gentle aroma and with no added colour it really looks and smells extra natural. With the high extra virgin olive oil content this handmade soap is super mild and extra moisturizing so it would be a good choice for anyone suffering from dermatitis, excema, or other skin irritations.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Honeycomb Handmade Soap

So Easter is over, the Royal wedding is over and its time to get down to some soaping again! My lastest creation was a bit of an experiment- I saw a tip to create a honey combed look to the soap bar by using bubble wrap when lining the mold, on line somewhere and thought it looked pretty good so thought I would give it a try. I used my usual recipe and added a good dose of honey from a local beekeeper I bought at a farmers market, steeped the olive oil in Madder root, that gave it a wonderful honey colour and added an extra virgin avocado oil to the final mix and some petitgrain and bergamot essential oils to give it a fresh but not too overpowering aroma. The resulting soap is remarkably like a honey comb! Even the fact that some of the bubble wrap was broken only means it looks like the cells are still full of honey. Its an excellent soap for extra dry skin or with its fresh scent and the deodorizing properties of the petitgrain and bergamot oils a good choice for general foot care.

Honey is actually a great natural moisturizer for dry and parched skin. A humectant, it is able to attract and retain moisture, rebuilding the moisture level in the skin without making it oily. Honey can also calm irritated skin, and helps replenish necessary skin moisture, especially during the winter months. If you use honey on the skin its very important to choose an organic variety and it can be combined with other ingredients to make face masks or just used direct on chapped lips.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Round trip walk Barrio Sanfranscisco- Virgen de la Cabeza- Barrio San franscisco

Its been a while since I did a walk, but yesterday it was another beautiful sunny day here, and since we had visitors we decided to take them on a longish ( 2 hour) walk just outside Ronda, taking in the Hermita de la Virgen de la Cabeza and the fertile valley that lies infront of the gorge itself. With wonderful views of Ronda from below, the surrounding hillsides and ancient olive groves its a gentle walk that is mostly off road.




The walk starts at the Barrio Sanfranscisco; if you have the city walls behind you and the square infront, take the right hand road that leads out of town. Keep on this road for about 500 meters and then at the second mini roundabout theres a sign indicating right for the Virgen de la Cabeza. Keep right and follow this gravel track through ancient olive groves that are dotted with a myriad of wild flowers for about 2 kms. The views of Ronda to the right and the surrounding mountains are really spectacular. Once you get to the head of the track that leads down on the right to the Virgen de la Cabeza itself, there is a clearing on the left and a large gate. Just to the left of the gate is a small opening in the fence go through and follow the path that leads downwards, there is a stone wall to the right which you follow all the way down heading into woodland. Once at the bottom it levels out and there is a little clearing, where you need to turn right down a smaller path that leads you through ancient Encina forests (evergreen oaks), the forest floor was full of cistroses in pale pink and white. This path continues for about 500 meters until you reach a gate, go through the gate and follow the path through two fincas on either side. After about another 500 meters you will come to a wider track, here you have to turn right and keep following this track back up the hill through the fertile valley infront of the gorge, which is on your left. The views of Ronda from here are really spectacular and the sides of the path were full of wild flowers, wild gladioli, daisies, periwinkle, and poppies. Eventually you will come back up to the old walls of the city, turn right up hill at the horse riding stables and continue up for about 200 meters until you come back to where you started from.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Grazalema's historic flour mill is back in business.

Grazalema is known for being one of the wettest areas in Spain, and one of the most popular walking destinations here in Andalucia. Frequented by Spaniards and foreigners alike the picturesque village is the gateway to a Pinsapo reserve, a Spanish Fir, that has survived evolutionary changes since the tertiary period.

Since the 17th century Grazalema became famous for its textiles, making blankets and woolen clothing. Below the village the valley known as “La Ribera” was an area with many water powered mills processing wool for the textile industry. There were also other water powered mills that ground wheat and the other main crop of the area Olives for Olive oil. However since the onset of the industrial revolution many of these mills were abandoned and left in ruins. The good news is that one of these mills has been lovingly restored and installed in the Tourist Information Centre of Grazalema and is now back at work milling wheat that is now being used by the local bakers to produce a true stoneground, wholewheat bread. The flour can also be bought directly from the Tourist Centre and makes great bread. Clive and Sue Muir, an English couple that run the centre and are responsible for getting the project off the ground believe wholeheartedly that local is best, and aim to produce flour for the entire surrounding area, using locally grown wheat, cutting down on transport costs and therefore making the whole process more sustainable. So if you are interested in seeing how a traditional mill works you can actually see it in action at the Tourist Centre, and go home with a bag of wonderful stoneground flour for only 1.25euros a kilo.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Rose Geranium and Grapefruit soap

Well Spring is really here now-the temperatures are soaring and it feels more like the beginning of Summer than the start of Spring. Here in Ronda, which is a little later to warm up than the coastal areas, the gardens are beginning to bloom and the heady scents of Jasmine perfume the warm night air. The roses have their first big blooms of Spring and I felt it was time to create a new soap that combines the floral scents of roses with the sharper tang of grapefruit. Using the locally pressed fresh olive oil I added a touch of rosehip oil and scattered the mix with ground rosehips. A generous amount of rose geranium oil, and a hint of grapefruit gives this soap a wonderful flowery, quite heady aroma toned alittle by a gentle sharpness from the grapefruit. Geranium oil is a staple in the cosmetic world being a fantastic skin care oil, particularly for more mature skin types. Its regenerative and moisturising properties are well documented and it also has an uplifting effect on the psyche making it an effective aid against many of the hormonal effects of menopause and also depression in general. Topped with deep pink rose petals it looks and smells gorgeous- so if youre looking for a pick me up this is the handmade soap for you.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Recipe - Andalucian Lemon Meringue Pie

Ingredients:

200gms flour
100gms butter
3 lemons
3 eggs
200gms sugar
60gms butter
300mils water
40gms cornflower.

Lemon meringue pie has always been one of my favorite desserts- the combination of the tangy lemon pudding with the sweet airiness of meringue and the crunchy pastry is just sublime.

At the moment there's an abundance of eggs - well its Springtime after all, and there's still a glut of lemons, so I thought that this pie was a great way to turn them into something mouthwateringly delicious.

It looks a bit daunting at first, but actually its quite easy to make. First make the pastry- sift the flour and add a pinch of salt, cut the butter into small cubes and add to the pastry, lightly crumb the butter into the flour and once its all been incorporated add two tablespoons of cold water, mixing lightly to create a homogenous pastry. Line the tin with the pastry and bake blind for about 15 minutes at 200 degrees celcius.

Once the pastry comes out of the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 180 degrees celcius and start to make the lemon filling. To do this put the juice and grated lemon rind of 3 lemons into a double boiler, add 40gms cornflower and whisk until it makes a smooth paste. Then add 300 mil water to this mixing well all the time, bring to the boil and it will thicken slowly. Once thick add 60gms butter, 80gms sugar and the yolks of 3 eggs mix thoroughly and then fill the pie base with it.

Next take the 3 egg whites and whisk till they form stiff peaks, gently fold in 120gms of sugar and top the pie with it. Bake in the oven till its golden brown. Leave to cool and then eat with some single cream or just on its own.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Best Churros in Ronda

Churros are one of the things that alongside the ubiquitous Paella seems to stick in ones mind about eating out in Spain. Now they are to be found all over the world, even at Glastonbury festival, but its Spain where they're done to perfection. It wasnt till I went to Granada one weekend that I realised that churros are actually made differently in each town. In Ronda they're made extra light and airey and fried in big rings, but in Granada I was severely dissappointed as they were considerably doughier and not at all like the crispy delights I was used to. So where is the best place to get ones churros in Ronda?- well Rondenans favorite is definately, La Ponderosa which is infront of the bus station and has a large patio outside. In the mornings, but particularly on weekends you will see hordes of young Rondenos after a heavy night out soaking up their alcohol indulgence at this very churreria. The churros are 1.20 euros per person - unfortunately I have had some feedback from a couple of tourists that read this piece and then went to La Ponderosa for their recommended churros, only to be charged 2 euros a person. When I could I went up to La Ponderosa to check this with a Dutch friend and sure enough they charged him 2 euros per churros per person. Unfortunately the real price is 1.20 but as so often and sadly is the case here in Ronda tourists are charged more. So although these are the best churros in Ronda by far youll probably have to pay extra for the privelege. I have to say that I wont be going there again as its a practise I despise but unfortunately it occurs even in high street shops. The staff are incredibly quick, so within a few minutes you're served with a big round of churros and chocolate, the traditional drink - which is more like a pudding-into which to dip the churros. If you like them extra sweet they can also be generously dusted with sugar. They really do do the trick if youre feeling a little worse for wear! For many from the surrounding pueblos this is a must have when they get to Ronda, getting into town before the shops open at ten, means breakfast is something of a tradition and many choose churros over toast as its often not available in the small white villages that dot the serrania. So if youre looking for great churros - head up to the bus station, only a 5 minute walk from the main shopping street and you wont be dissappointed.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Spring florals

Ive been a bit busy lately making lots of beautiful floral inspired handmade soaps, the weather is absolutely gorgeous here at the moment and the flowers in my small garden are busy budding which inspired me to make 3 lovely soaps with flower toppings.

Gardening is high on my list at the moment as Spring has definately arrived and Ive been busy seeding rocket, coriander, parsley and planting out lettuces and tomatoes. I like to do my gardening work without gloves as otherwise Im a clumsy gardener but it does mean I end up with very dirty hands that often have small cuts and scratches. So a special gardeners soap was top of my list. So I made an extra virgin olive oil rich soap, enriched with cocoa butter to give extra moisturizing qualities and lavished extra quantities of Tea Tree essential oil to help clean and cure those little cuts and scrapes. It also looks lovely as its topped with deep blue cornflowers. Tea Tree is an amazing essential oil; as well as being a powerful antiseptic, antifungal, antimicrobial essential oil its also a powerful cicatrisant which means it helps wounds to heal quicker and then protects them from further infections and is also said to promote scar tissue so its a wonderful aid for any one that suffers from acne, or for cleaning any type of wound. I have also had success with this soap with people that suffer from common herpes. Tea Tree is also well known as a natural fungicide which makes it a good choice for sufferers of Athletes foot.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Scrub up with an invigorating eucalyptus and poppy seed soap


Its Spring here in Andalucia and the countryside is full of wild flowers and the scents of spring which include the fresh aroma of Eucalyptus. Although this tree is not a native of Europe, having been introduced from Australia mostly at the turn of the last century, it is relatively abundant particularly in certain areas. Its blue-green leaves make a welcome change from the darker hues of the various types of indigenous oak that are so abundant in the Serrania of Ronda. Some varieties have beautiful papery type bark that glisten with either silvery or golden tones that light up the forests especially in the bright Andalusian sunlight. Eucalyptus is a highly controversial tree as it poses a severe fire risk and also sucks water out of the ground therefore lowering the water table- infact they have been used to drain swamp lands in countries like Italy in an attempt to reduce mosquito infestations. The Eucalyptus tree also provides a wonderfully fragrant refreshing essential oil that is distilled from the leaves. Its incredibly useful as an effective decongestant and has antimicrobial properties that makes it a powerful aid in personal hygiene products. It also helps stimulate the immune system so its a great choice for a handmade soap especially an invigorating exfoliating shower bar. So with this in mind I set about making a soap speckled with poppy seeds and genorously scented with eucalyptus and a hint of rosemary oil. Coloured naturally with powdered spirulina its also rich in trace minerals. So if youre feeling a little lack lustre this handmade soap is sure to pick you up and get you ready for the day ahead.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Relax with lavender aromatherapy soy wax candles


Well known in the United States Soy wax is now making headway in the European and UK markets as an alternative to paraffin wax based candles. Soy wax is hydrogenated soy bean oil - made from soy beans and is a completely renewable resource, that also has several user friendly advantages over paraffin wax candles. Firstly, and perhaps of most interest to the consumer is the fact that soy wax candles burn slower and therefore last up to 50% longer than their paraffin wax counterparts. They also burn cleaner releasing less CO2 into the atmosphere- up to 90%less smoke giving a cleaner home environment which is of particular interest to people with small children. Due to their slower burn time soy wax candles also have a wonderful scent throw and you can even use essential oils to scent the candles meaning they are a completely natural alternative. One of the handy advantages of soy wax is that any spills are completely removed with just some hot soapy water so you dont run the risk of spoiling your nice tablecloth with wax spills. We have recently made several differently scented soy wax candles- lavender with flowers pictured, or juniper and cedarwood plain white and they are now for sale in the shop in Ronda at Calle Sevilla 23 or via the website. So give them a try you'll be surprised how long they last and how great they smell.