_DSC38672So…you may recall a previous post (the one with the kaya recipe) in which I mentioned I had an abundance of pandan leaves to use up? Well, here’s me going through the rest of those fragrant fronds in a couple of culinary experiments that (fortunately) turned out according to plan. 😀

As promised, I made us Ji Bao Gai 纸包鸡 (literal translation: paper-wrapped chicken), a Cantonese dish that I haven’t had since childhood; and Sago Melaka (aka Sago Pudding), a very simple Peranakan dessert which you can see in the above pic. It goes without saying that both recipes include pandan leaves (or shop-bought pandan essence, which is easier to store and has a longer shelf life) in the list of ingredients.



SAGO MELAKA

Pudding – Add sago pearls* to boiling water. A serving of a similar size to what you can see in the photo above would require about three to four tablespoons of pearls. You’ll know they’re done once the grains turn translucent. Don’t worry too much if a few still have a bit of white in them so long as they are soft.

Drain the pearls in a sieve, and give them a rinse under the cold tap to get rid of any starchiness. After that, gently press them into jelly moulds or small bowls before placing in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours. Alternatively, if you’re not fussy about how it looks, set the pudding in a large tray or dish, and scoop out portions when ready to serve.

*Be careful not to confuse sago pearls with the huge dark tapioca globules in bubble tea. They are not the same thing! For this recipe, you’ll need the little tiny white balls, like in the left-hand pic below.

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Syrup – Heat up some gula melaka** in a pot of water with two or three ‘knots’ of pandan leaves. You’ll need roughly one tablespoon of water per 30g of the gula. I used about 100g for this batch of pudding (for four people), and still had quite a bit of syrup left over. Stir until the mixture caramelises, then set aside to cool. It may thicken further if you refrigerate it. Should this happen, stir in a few drops of hot water…just enough to thin it out, but not so much that the syrup re-heats.

**There are a few different types of palm sugar, some sourced from the date palm, others from coconut or nipa. Gula melaka originates from the Straits of Malacca (hence the name), and is produced using the sap of flower buds from coconut palm trees. Like pandan leaves, you can get them from most Asian stores, or major online shopping portals like eBay or Amazon. They come in hard solid blocks which can be difficult to break apart. However, they do grate easily.

Cream – Bring coconut milk*** to boil, and stir in a pinch of salt. The cream isn’t actually supposed to be savoury, so don’t overdo it. The idea is to enhance the milk’s natural flavour while acting as a counterpoint to the syrup. It’s probably best to sprinkle in a few granules and do a taste test before adding more (if required). Leave the cream to cool before serving.

***Any brand coconut milk will do, and most supermarkets sell them. I like my pudding to be literally swimming in cream, so a 400ml tin was about right for us, but smaller 250ml cartons are also available. Leftovers can be refrigerated for later use, though not beyond a week.



JI BAO GAI 纸包鸡

2018-04-21 21.15.51This dish is traditionally deep-fried, but I was overjoyed to discover that the healthier option of oven-baking is entirely doable! Yay, no more greasy kitchen…It’s such a bugger to clean!

Breast fillets are fine if you are calorie-conscious, but I personally prefer chicken on the bone (with skin…it’s the best bit!) as they’re tastier and juicer, so what you see here are chicken thighs (halved).

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Marinade – The essential ingredients are oyster sauce*, rice wine**, and the cornflour solution (so you don’t end up with a watery dribbly mess when unwrapping the chicken). Minced garlic would be ideal, but I was lazy and had recently bought a huge bottle of garlic oil from a discount store.

*I am very picky when it comes to oyster sauce, and would rather go through the trouble of ordering good quality (yet low-cost) ones online than purchase what most UK supermarkets have on offer. Highly recommended brands are Lee Kum Kee Gluten-Free or Ayam – neither of which contain MSG, but I honestly can’t say I’ve noticed that the authentic flavour has been compromised.

**If you haven’t got any rice wine, it’s ok to substitute with white wine…my dad often uses brandy or cognac in place of wine whenever he does the cooking and everything still turns out just as scrummy, sometimes even more so! 😮

Parcels – The chillies are optional, and any mushrooms will do, though shiitake works best here, and it doesn’t matter if they’re fresh or dried. However, the latter will require pre-soaking in hot water.

2018-04-21 19.13.16Wrap chicken pieces in parchment/baking paper, and secure the parcels with staples before baking.

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Not going to specify a time or temperature as all ovens are different, and you’ll probably know how to operate yours better than I would. If you’re not confident, my advice would be to leave a parcel unstapled at one end so you can keep checking if the meat’s thoroughly cooked.

As always, any meal that involves pandan leaves (or other Asian ingredients) fills the whole house with a wonderful aroma that stirs up lots of memories from my growing-up years…mainly family celebrations – three generations of us sat around a huge table chatting, laughing, enjoying great food, and even better company. Happy days! 🙂

I suppose olfactory trips of of nostalgia are pretty much universal, but each experience is unique, so it’ll be interesting to hear what stories others have to tell. Comment below if any food smells in particular whisk you off to another time and place…what magic does it work on you? ❤

1I’ve said in the past that of all the colours I like, pink is nowhere near the top of that list. However, there is something about that shade which evokes the hallmarks of my favourite season – bright flowers in bloom, sunsets at the end of a long sunny day, rosy fruit bursting with juice, and lots of ice-cream to cool off in the balmy heat. Well, I blended the latter two with some milk as temperatures began to soar in the last couple of weeks, and greeted summer with this classic concoction in my hand – a glass of homemade strawberry milkshake…Mmmmm!

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Apart from the solstice (Happy Litha!), this June brought us something else to celebrate, a birthday milestone. Not mine, but a friend who turned 50. A group of us at work got her a giftcard and a bottle of rosé with matching begonias, but I wanted to make her something special.

We recently had a conversation about natural products, and how coconut oil is great for haircare. She expressed an interest in trying out Himalayan pink salts, and that gave me a lightbulb moment… 💡

2018-06-26 21.21.59Instead of trawling through the likes of Etsy or Not on the High Street like I normally do, why not put together a bespoke pamper kit?

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I already had a big bag of the pink salt at home and only needed to fill a small jar with some of it, but I managed to find the other bits and bobs at my nearest Holland & Barrett‘s (which was having a sale), and a local shop in Lytham. As you can see, all items were in the various hues of summer, including the gift bag I made.

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To construct this, all you would need (apart from the bag itself) is a paper doily, some thin card, and gift tissue. Unless you’ve a deft hand, I’d advise cutting the eye-shapes etc. with a circle cutter. I designed a ‘badge’ for the body of the owl that says “turning 50 is a real hoot”, but if you haven’t got a printer, a simpler alternative would be to use washi paper, or another material that’s patterned, like gift wrap.

You might be wondering why the owl. I haven’t an answer for that, except…it’s cute. That’s one of the reasons I like these quirky looking birds. I guess it kind of looks like I’m saying with age comes wisdom, but mainly because…it’s cute. 😀

bottles and birdTechnically, most of the freebies featured here today arrived in Spring, so this is a little late. However, summer had only just begun when some items arrived, such as the above miniatures from Cetaphil.

The brand currently has a launch campaign going on in the UK, and it’s one that I’m glad to be a part of as Cetaphil has been amongst my favourite go-to skincare since my dermatologist recommended the Gentle Cleanser to me years ago.

2018-06-11 19.19.01Despite having a great reputation when it comes to sensitive and troubled skin, Cetaphil (pronounced SEET-a-fil) still gets its fair share of criticism. This is due to its use of (mainly) synthetic ingredients, making the brand practically a pariah in the minds of those who believe the all-natural approach is best.

Although I have it made a lifestyle choice to cut out as much processing as possible with regards to what I put on or, more importantly, in my body, I tend to agree with Michelle from Lab Muffin that there is nothing inherently harmful in items just because they are man-made, even when it comes to beauty products.

In fact, the outcome was far from toxic when trying out this mini set, as not only has Cetaphil kept my skin soft and in good condition regardless of climate, I have also not had a single breakout whilst using it…a painful patch of redness which threatened to erupt into a huge spot under my lip even retreated as soon as I started this new beauty routine.

I was a little worried there would be a greasy or tacky residue after applying the moisturisers as they are very rich, especially the Daily Defence cream (which has a thick paste-like consistency). However, both actually left my combination skin looking quite matte. Of the two, the Moisturising Lotion glides on more easily, and absorbs faster. Although the UK version is marketed as a product for the body rather than the face, many people have found the lotion a more effective and lightweight alternative to the cream.

If you’re still worried that your skin will have a nuclear reaction to Cetaphil’s blend of chemicals, my advice would be to trust the science! Not all from nature’s bounty is safe…I mean, you wouldn’t rub Giant Hogsweed all over your face just because it’s freshly plucked, so why not treat everything else with caution as well, no matter the origin?

2018-06-13 18.28.31I have, again, acquired a wide variety of complimentary goodies this time round (including men’s stuff so David will get to be my guinea pig!), all of which I can’t wait to try out. Due to the hype and celebrity endorsement, I was equally eager (or possibly, more so) to dip into the pot of Crème de la Mer sent to me. Unfortunately, I can’t say the entire experience made any waves in my corner. The smell and colour (of course) was strangely reminiscent of the highly versatile and effective though (sadly) discontinued Hazeline Snow I used as a teenager. However, that’s where the resemblance ends.

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Is it a good moisturiser? Yes. It did keep my skin well-hydrated enough…But is it £120 good? Well, let’s just say I would rather spend my money on the much more affordable Cetaphil since it does as good a job. Sometimes, more money doesn’t mean better quality.

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I will soon be reviewing more products from Your Good Skin by Boots after winning a couple of online raffles in the reviewer community. I received the above Anti-Blemish Base Lotion last month, and the Comforting Gel Cleanser a few days ago.

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Fingers crossed the end-result is as positive as my last encounter with YGS! I will update this post with a new pic once I’ve got the second item. 🙂


 
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Not a freebie, but still in keeping with the theme of this month’s goodies…Boxcitement‘s latest collection of loveliness landed on my doorstep a few days ago, and this adorable handmade fish ornament was part of it, along with loads of other gorgeous stuff, including lip balm!

2018-07-01 19.46.31Oh yes, mwah indeed! So very timely, since I was just about to run out, but I’m now all set to get my trout pout ready for more sunkissed days to come. 😀

As usual, I have uploaded all pics of the unboxing to my gallery on Google Photos so why not have a nosy to see what you could receive if you subscribe? ❤

2018-04-22 17.22.10…a rose still wouldn’t taste as sweet as it smells. Though its natural flavour is too distinctive to be mistaken for anything else, it is actually very subtle. Not so when these crimson blooms have been made into syrup, as I recently discovered!

Now that the days are getting warmer, I’ve been putting my blender to good use by making us loads of refreshing smoothies. However, the Rose Green Tea I made the other week reminded me of a fragrant ice-cold beverage I used to enjoy as a child growing up in the tropics. It is commonly known as Bandung in the Malay Archipelago, possibly a variant of the popular Rose Milk brought over by Indian immigrants generations ago.

Summer lovin’ had me a blast
Summer lovin’ happened so fast

Aside from being a fab summer drink, the colour alone is enough to set off my mental playlist so it repeats the Grease soundtrack over and over again, with particular emphasis on the above verse so I now can’t get rid of that earworm. Perhaps they ought to re-name this milkshake The Pink Lady!

2018-05-06 17.50.50There are many variations of Bandung, but it is essentially a mixture of rose syrup, milk, cold water and ice. Be forewarned: unless you have a super sweet tooth, go easy on the syrup as it is incredibly saccharine. Some recipes call for condensed milk, but I would personally not recommend it. Evaporated milk is a better option, or the regular stuff you’d put in your tea. Unsweetened dairy alternatives will also work.

You could try making your own rose syrup, but I’m saving my supply of petals for other projects, so I turned to good old eBay and bought myself a bottle of Natco‘s. All ingredients went into my trusty blender, and pretty soon I had myself a frosty and frothy (frosthy? 😀 ) pink concoction served with edible gold sprinkles and of course…a cocktail umbrella, because no sunny day is complete without that!

2018-05-06 19.22.34My love affair with rose as an ingredient continues, and has extended from culinary endeavours to skincare. I have a few plans in mind and would ideally prefer to use rose essential oil in my beauty products, but it is very very dear, and with good reason. The purest rose otto requires tens of thousands of roses to be distilled just to fill a mere 5ml bottle. It is, however, considered worth the expense because of the benefits to both mind and body. My previous blog post doesn’t even begin to touch on the merits of this botanical wonder.

A cheaper alternative would be to buy a blend, and supplement it with homemade rose-infused oil. The latter is easy enough to achieve. There are a few different methods, but I believe the ‘sunlight version’ yields the quickest result. All you’d need is one part crushed or bruised dried rose petals to one part carrier oil. Grapeseed oil is fine, but sweet almond, jojoba, and even olive oil will also do. If you choose to replace the dried petals with fresh ones, ensure they are from organic roses (so no chemicals have been sprayed on them) but still be wary of mould forming due to moisture content.

Place both ingredients in a clean jar and give it a good swirl to make sure the petals are all submerged. It is absolutely crucial that your chosen vessel did not recently contain anything pungent. Otherwise, you’d be making the mistake I did with my first batch of rose oil. The jar in question had Country French sauce in it a few weeks prior, and it initially seemed like a long soak and a few hot washes did get rid of the smell. Oh, how I was mistaken…The end-result of my rosy enterprise had to be binned because garlic is nobody’s idea of perfume!

Get a pot of water on the boil whilst filling the jar. Once it’s bubbling, turn the flames off and sit the jar in the hot water. The heat will help to release the rose scent into the oil. When the water’s cooled down, move the jar to a location that gets lots of sunlight and let the infusion process continue for at least another 24 hours. The longer you leave it, the more potent it will be. I left mine to sit on the window sill for a week before straining it.

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Another piece of advice: have some coffee filters ready, or empty teabags. Depending on how well you crushed your rose petals, there may be some tiny bits in your oil that a muslin or cheesecloth may not catch. If so, you’ll be glad to have these little paper sieves at your disposal. Give the petals a proper squeeze during this procedure to extract every last drop.

2018-05-07 18.34.03The final step would be to decant the oil into a dark bottle to preserve it. Your rose infusion is now ready to be used neat, or in another beauty recipe. Concentrated in a receptacle (regardless of jar, bowl or bottle), it might give off an odd earthy aroma, somewhat akin to wine. Like me, you might wonder if something’s gone horribly awry. Though I can’t quite fathom the cause, I’ve found that it isn’t one for concern. When applied to skin, the oil did exactly as expected, which was to leave me smelling of roses. 🙂 ❤

2018-04-15 14.33.40As jam is typically made from fruit, some argue it would be more accurate to call this a spread, or even custard because it contains egg. This is an ongoing debate that stems from confusion over the correct classification of coconuts. In botanical terms, coconuts do fall in the fruit category. Somewhat of a misnomer, ‘coconut’ is technically defined as a fibrous one-seeded drupe, putting it in the same league as plums and apricots.

To us Asians, the name of this breakfast condiment has never been a matter of contention since we just refer to it as kaya (or srikaya). However, there are quite a few variations (including a green one) depending on how it is made, so we may not always agree on which version is best!

I am a complete novice when it comes to making jam, so to keep things simple, I opted for a fast and easy recipe that only makes a small amount. Basically, I cheated. 😀

Please note that the end product of this method will only approximate the taste of the genuine article. It’s great for those living in countries where this coconut jam is not readily available, but want a quick fix to satisfy nostalgic cravings.

Making authentic kaya requires a great deal of kungfu (not martial arts…there is more than one definition!), slaving over a double boiler, and involving at least an hour (sometimes more) of stirring. Kaya usually requires eggs, but this particular approach omits the whites and uses only the yolks. True, your jam will not thicken up quite as well, but there will also be less lumps to break up, which reduces the need for all that arm action.

Some day, I will attempt to make kaya the proper way, but for now…this will do.



INGREDIENTS:

200ml Coconut Milk*
4 tbsp Brown Sugar
4 tbsp Gula Melaka** – Grated
4 Pandan Leaves*** – Knotted
4 Egg Yolks

2018-04-15 12.48.09METHOD:

Mixture A – Gently heat the coconut milk, sugar, gula melaka, and pandan leaves in a pot (no need for a double boiler). Turn off cooker once it starts to simmer.

Mixture B – Stir egg yolks, and slowly add in half of Mixture A.

Return pot with the remainder of Mixture A to heat (not too high), and gradually pour in all of Mixture B, stirring all the while.

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Reduce heat to low and stir constantly until the jam begins to coat the sides of your pot.

Add more sugar if preferred. If not, remove pandan leaves and transfer the jam to a jar.

Leave kaya to cool entirely before putting the lid on, and ensure it is airtight. Refrigerate and consume within one week.

*Although it is better to use fresh coconut milk, this is next to impossible to get hold of in most Western countries. However, it is ok to use tinned coconut milk.

**Gula melaka aka coconut (not date) palm sugar can be found in most Asian stores. It is also possible to buy it online. I actually got mine from an eBay seller.

***Another challenging item to acquire, though I did manage to purchase mine from Amazon. The trouble is not only are pandan leaves generally sold in large quantities, they also have a short shelf life and don’t last long in the fridge. I’d advise rolling up individual leaves in some baking paper, putting them in a bag, and freezing the lot.

With enough of these leaves to last me the next six months, I’ve now lined up quite a number of recipes to keep me busy experimenting in my lab kitchen. Pandan flavour is sometimes dubbed the Asian equivalent of vanilla, but I don’t quite agree with that analogy since it is a major ingredient in many savoury dishes from Asian cuisine, such as the Pandan Chicken I made awhile back (served with a prawn and vegetable stir-fry).

20228556_10155381175750856_7038454441550405045_nI was thinking of making it again, but would be happier if I could avoid any deep frying since that activity is almost guaranteed to cover most of our downstairs in a thin film of grease. Then I remembered a childhood favourite of mine – Ji Bao Gai 纸包鸡 (literal translation: Paper-Wrapped Chicken). It’s a Cantonese variant of Pandan Chicken and best of all, it can be done in the oven! Ji Bao Gai is absolutely scrummy and won’t be difficult to make, so I can’t wait to try it out, but that’s a project for another day. 🙂

2018-04-08 18.46.53…nothing good comes without a price, no pain no gain, take the good with the bad – I’m sure you’ve heard them all before, but I learnt something new this weekend. Despite the aphorism, not all roses have thorns!

I know little about horticulture and the same goes for my husband David, so our garden is pretty much a disgrace, being left to grow wild 99% of the time. The 1% that we devote to it consists of hacking away weeds or branches that prevent us from getting from front door to car door. We are definitely people more suited to enjoying beautiful landscapes than creating or maintaining them!

I am, however, far from oblivious of the plant life in our garden, and have always admired the massive bright blooms on a bush next to our driveway, particularly this time of year. More than once, David has speculated that they are roses (though he admitted to being stumped by their thornless disposition), and each time, I have expressed scepticism because (as you can see from the top image) they look nothing like conventional roses, except when they are budding (as per the photo below).

2018-04-15 14.02.14On Sunday, I was finally spurred to settle it once and for all by way of Google, and it turns out David might actually be right! Sigh! #CuetheEyeRoll

We appear to be the proud (if somewhat lackadaisical) caretakers of the Rosa Gallica Officinalis, otherwise known as the Red Rose of Lancaster, one of the eponymous emblems from medieval England’s Wars of the Roses and official county flower of Lancashire, thus making perfect sense that it should be flourishing on our little patch here in this part of the country. Doh! I could be forgiven for my ignorance, but Blackpool-born-and-bred David should have known better…tsk tsk! 😀

This damask of ancient pedigree is, when you take into account our neglect, fortunately hardy and will grow in most conditions. As mentioned previously, it has the unique honour of being among the few roses that bear little or no thorns…somewhat ironic given its place in a long history of bloodshed.

Sometimes also known as the Apothecary’s Rose, it earned that nomenclature by becoming a popular ingredient in many medicinal and cosmetic products. Various varieties of roses are today still widely used in food, perfume and skincare, including homemade preparations. The beautiful crimson blossoms in my garden have inspired me to adopt a rose theme in many of my recent ideas, and I began by experimenting with my favourite hot beverage – tea!

Full of vitamin C and antioxidants, rose tea has a reputation for having wonderful healing and restorative properties that can help slow down the signs of ageing whilst boosting immunity. It is considered to be anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, making it highly effective in treating a number of skin conditions, such as acne. Although the probiotic claim seems rather doubtful to me, roses are often listed as a part of many detox and weight-loss teas.

Edible rose petals or rose hips can be easily purchased if you haven’t got a rose bush (or if like me, you simply don’t fancy plundering too much of your own garden), and a few supermarkets even stock them. The price and quality can vary, so some shopping around may be required before you find a suitable supplier.

2018-04-15-19-24-541I’m generally pretty adventurous (especially when it comes to food) but as described above, rose tea is detoxifying, and working as a mild laxative is one of the ways it purges your body of impurities. This is great if you’re not…erm…regular, but those making this for the first time may want to keep quantities small (perhaps start with half a teaspoon) by combining the dried rose petals (lightly crushed or bruised to release the scent…I use a mortar and pestle) with something more familiar, like black or green tea. I picked the latter as I felt the light and delicate flavour of green tea would better complement the floral element of this brew.

2018-04-15-20-44-58If you’re concerned the scent of rose petals will be so overpowering that it would be like drinking perfume, worry not! Its natural fragrance is incredibly more subtle than I expected, and taste-wise this blend is more like green tea with only a very slight hint of rose. Some people like to add a bit of honey, but unless it’s black (which I take very strong, sweet and creamy), I prefer my tea unsullied.

It’s up to you how long the teabag should be left to steep…I actually didn’t remove mine as I was hoping for a more intense aroma. There’s simply no better way to enjoy a steaming hot cuppa than taking time to smell the roses.

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The vernal equinox took place a week ago, and marking this astronomical occasion was the usual Google Doodle, which led a couple of my colleagues to remark: “I’m sure the first day of spring has already been and gone!”

They’re not wrong…Meteorologically speaking, it did. As explained by our Met Office, there are (just to confuse us) two dates – one determined by temperature, and the other by our planet’s position. Regardless of how you prefer to split up the seasons, the weather is definitely warming up, and despite freak snow flurries not long ago, daffodils here have finally gotten the memo. I actually noticed a few tentatively poking out of the ground on the way home from work last weekend, so yay! At last!

Sunny days beckon – time to banish that winter pallor and prep your skin for summery outfits by putting the radiance back in it. What better way to celebrate this period of regeneration than with natural homemade skincare?

Rounding up the ingredients to make your own body wash is relatively simple. They are available at many online stores or marketplaces. You’ll also most likely be able to buy them at your local health store on the high street.

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Three key elements are required – castile soap, raw honey, and coconut oil. You can then add your own choice of essential oils, depending on what your skin needs and/or fragrance you like. For my body wash, I have used grapefruit and rosemary. As a prelude to the recipe, I thought I’d touch briefly on the benefits of all these items:

CASTILE SOAP
Sourced from the Spanish region it was named after, this cleanser is made from olive oil, and its use can be traced back to Queen Cleopatra. Besides being kind to the environment, it is also not animal-based, which should please vegans and vegetarians. Although gentle and safe enough for sensitive skins (including those who suffer from eczema etc.), castile soap does clean very effectively without drying your skin. It can also fight acne since it possesses antibacterial properties.

RAW HONEY
The most natural and least processed form of honey is best for this endeavour since you’ll want to make the most of its skin-saving qualities. This is a staple ingredient when it comes to DIY beauty. Unpasteurised (aka raw) honey is full of anti-ageing antioxidants that can bring a glow to your complexion. It is antibacterial and clarifying as well, thus helping to unclog pores, whilst healing and soothing your skin at the same time.

COCONUT OIL
I am never without several jars of this tropical wonder because it is such a great all-rounder. Not only can you cook and bake with coconut oil, but it can also work miracles on your skin and hair. Particularly with regards to the latter, coconut oil has rescued me from more than a few tangly snags and frizzy disasters. This oil is an excellent moisturiser, and has the ability to penetrate far down into the skin to repair collagen layers. It is hypoallergenic and locks in moisture, creating a physical barrier against all sorts of harmful agents – such as pollution, harsh UV rays, and free radicals. Being both antibacterial and antifungal makes this oil an ideal deep cleanser and make-up remover (eyes included). Since it literally melts in my hands, I would normally apply coconut oil (solid at room temperature) straight from the jar. However, to make this body wash, you’d have to liquify it using the double-boiler method.

GRAPEFRUIT ESSENTIAL OIL
Just the smell of this oil alone is a good reason to add it to your beauty regime. It is a fabulous energiser and stress buster. Due to its lymphatic stimulant and diuretic traits, grapefruit oil is often listed as an ingredient in cellulite-busting and firming creams. A robust circulation booster, it can also dilate blood vessels and relieve inflammation. Combine with a carrier oil (such as coconut) and you have a nourishing salve that wards off toxins and builds skin immunity.

ROSEMARY ESSENTIAL OIL
As a natural deodoriser, this will keep odours at bay. The same characteristic, plus the limonene and camphor it contains, also repels insects, especially mosquitoes. Rosemary oil is an anti-inflammatory which aids healing, and even reduces puffiness. Rich in nutrients, it’s been described as an efficient combatant of sun damage and age spots, with fatty acids that can aid in tightening skin. Being an astringent means rosemary oil can act as a toner when mixed with a carrier. Add to that its muscle-relaxant capabilities, and you have another versatile must-have for DIY skincare.

2018-03-18-19-13-534doneGRAPEFRUIT & ROSEMARY BODY WASH
Moving on to the how-to part of this post, it goes without saying that you’re going to need a bottle (preferably pump) to decant the body wash once you’ve made it, along with a bowl, spoon, and the following:

100ml Melted Coconut Oil
100ml Raw Honey
225ml Castile Soap
20-25 Drops Essential Oil

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First, put the coconut oil and honey in a bowl. Give the mixture a bit of a stir, but don’t worry too much if it doesn’t come together.

Next, add all the castile soap gradually, stirring gently as you do so.

Last to go in is the essential oil…It can be just one type, or you could create a blend (like what I did with grapefruit and rosemary).

There are no hard and fast rules here. The advantage of a homemade beauty product is the wherewithal to customise it to your taste and requirements, so feel free to experiment. 🙂 If it’s your first time dabbling in aromatherapy, my advice is to start off with small amounts of oil. Some are considerably more potent than others, and you don’t want to end up with a potion that’s too overpowering!

Once all the ingredients have been combined, pour the concoction into a bottle, and that’s it…all there is to making your own body wash at home! The only thing that remains is to stick a label on. I didn’t have any waterproof ones appropriate for bathroom storage, so I just used old-fashioned DYMO (or rather, MoTEX) labels. I love that retro look; they even come in quite handy when decorating gift boxes.

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You can tell from my photos that the various elements of the body wash do separate eventually, but it only requires a little swirl or shake prior to using. Although it doesn’t lather much, this body wash will still leave you feeling thoroughly cleansed. My hubby David isn’t too keen on the fatty smell of castile soap, but all I can detect is a faint whiff of the medicinal which I do not mind. I did expect the fragrance to be stronger, but it was surprisingly mild. Perhaps more drops of grapefruit oil is called for…

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To complete this body pampering set, I also made a matching sugar scrub. It is more suitably used as a treatment, rather than a stand-alone cleanser. Natural scrubs generally need a bit of a stir beforehand, and this is no different. As with all aromatherapy bath and shower products that are oil-based, take care not to slip when using them. Your shower floor or bathtub may even need a quick swipe with a soapy sponge after you are done.

The grapefruit and rosemary infusion gives off a lovely fruity and fresh scent (slightly minty), as can be expected from a citrus and herb combo. I was initially concerned that the sugar would dissolve too quickly in the wet, but I needn’t have worried as the crystals more or less kept their form throughout, and some even had to be jetted into the plughole before I got out of the tub. As an exfoliant, this body scrub beats any other I have ever bought and, together with the body wash, works superbly well in keeping my skin soft and smooth.

So pleased with the success of this “no poo” equivalent to body care that I am now considering this sugar scrub as another DIY Spa Kit to add to my Etsy store, which will soon be re-opening. I have a few other ideas as well, so be sure to keep a lookout for new products coming out later this year by subscribing to my blog. TIA! 😀

29416430_188733358522561_6383110640751345664_nEaster is fast approaching, which means that Lent will soon be over. Although I’m not Christian, I have in the past given up something for this occasion. It’s a good time to challenge yourself as you’ll probably get loads of support from many others who are doing the same…I guess there’s nothing like companions in misery! 😀

Jokes aside, setting myself goals and then meeting them always fills me with positive energy. Plus, it’s kind of like giving yourself a second chance if you failed at keeping your new year’s resolution! I once abstained from all food with sugar and high FODMAPs. My body did feel the benefits after the 40 days, but I’m not about to martyr myself on the detox pyre again in a hurry! It’s not all about sacrifice though…you can choose to start a new habit (like exercising more regularly), or pick up a new skill (theremin lessons anyone?). The important thing is to better yourself (and possibly even help those around you) through incremental changes in your lifestyle. 🙂

This year, I am trying to create less waste, and hope that this will eventually become second nature. It’s true I’m not doing very well at the moment, so I’ve decided to take baby steps by focusing mainly on food for now. This does tie in quite nicely with Lent since you are traditionally meant to use up what provisions you have before the fasting period begins. Also, I have been hoarding loads of empty tubs and jars which should be doing a lot more than just sitting in a cupboard!

Previously, we’d find ourselves chucking away fruit that have gone off (or over-ripened) at the end of every week. Well, no more! I now try to use it all up by making smoothies, or pancakes. However, it’s a bit difficult to do that when you’ve only got one or two items on the verge of expiry, like the couple of lonesome bananas turning black on our kitchen worktop last Sunday. Though still perfectly edible, no one seemed keen on eating them.

19055155_10155234474365856_6692917612276566672_oQuite by coincidence, Jack Monroe recently blogged a recipe for Blushing Berry Banana Bread, and since I always have a supply of frozen blueberries for the Blueberry Oat Bars (pic above) I regularly make for breakfast, I thought…why not?!

I have followed Monroe’s recipe closely, with a couple of small tweaks. My loaf is less pink as I only had blueberries, and because I like my cakes to be quite buttery, I allowed myself one small indulgence by replacing the oil with melted butter. It does of course cost a little more, but if it’s within your means, your taste buds will thank you for it.

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As mentioned in the original recipe, not all ovens are created equal, and ours is definitely not like the others, since only two gas marks work – one and nine. Baking in our household typically involves faffing about with the oven knob, and re-positioning manoeuvres from one shelf to another before hitting the Goldilocks zone.

29089638_352836771874600_706105186241740800_nLuckily, yummy treats are not beyond our faulty ancient appliance! The Banana Berry Loaf was a success, and emerged from the oven as a kind of cross between bread and cake. We had it freshly baked with some vanilla ice-cream from Aldi…Mmmmm, yesss! 😛

2018-03-11 00.28.40This is what I like to call my budget basket! 😀 It’s perfect for those times when you are stuck for ideas, and have a bit of a cash flow problem. That’s how we found ourselves this Mother’s Day. Fortunately (piggybank-wise), my mum is in Singapore where this occasion isn’t celebrated until May, so for the time-being, we only had to take care of one present.

The gift you see in the photo above is actually for my mother-in-law. She’s the sort of person who likes a simple quiet life, with no particular hobbies or interests (apart from cats), which makes her a pretty tricky recipient. We often buy her feline-related paraphernalia, but wanted to get her something different this time.

Posh nosh is always a great fallback…There aren’t many of us who will say no to yummy treats! They don’t necessarily cost a lot either. The little hamper I put together actually came to less than £15 in total, and could have been cheaper had I not decided to shop in Booths. Well, I wanted it to be special, so it was worth the few extra quid. 🙂

2018-03-10 22.05.54The basket was a bargain from a pound shop, but if you can’t find one that’s suitable, you could cut up a cardboard box and stick some nice wrapping paper on the outside of it. Apart from the card (in colours to match), I didn’t buy anything else because I already owned most of the necessary materials to put this gift basket together. As you can see below, I’ll not be experiencing a shortage of patterned cellophane anytime soon!

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I also have a collection of artificial flowers I keep as props and decoration. However, you can embellish with something else if you haven’t any of those. Be inventive! I think shaped bath bombs or candles can look pretty as well, or possibly mini plush toys and beads. To cushion the items in the basket, I filled it with some leftover packaging from parcels I’d received, and paper from my shredder.

The whole endeavour was fairly quick and easy, but would have taken me a bit longer had hubby David not lent a hand when it came to taping the cellophane down. I’m really rubbish with dates and suck at time management, so this really isn’t bad for a last minute job (even if I do say so myself)! It’s a trait that must run in the family, because my daughter Zhouyi admitted she was similarly pushed for time and only got my present yesterday!

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She does know me well though…Her gifts are always the most adorablest! And that card did make me chuckle. 😀

I hope there’s much joy going round this Mothering Sunday, and that you’re having a lovely time with your mum whether or not you follow the UK tradition!

2018-02-17 23.24.52With all these parcels arriving for me every week, it really does seem like Christmas hasn’t already been and gone…It even snowed earlier today (not my video)! There was only a light smattering on the ground, but it’s not often we get winter flurries on the Fylde Coast so perhaps Navidad has stayed a little longer to sprinkle some joy before the spring showers arrive. 😀

As usual, I got a load of complimentary gifts through the post. February’s loot of freebies was a bit of a mixed bag – a combination of beauty products, food (not just for me, but for my fur baby as well), and even jewellery. Here’s a brief round-up of brands I received goodies from:

Some of them were samples, but a few were full-sized products sent to me in return for a review, or only the cost of delivery. In cases such as the latter, I would advise doing a bit of research to find out how the amount of postage compares to the retail value of the item.

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The Purina stuff took a little while to arrive, but I couldn’t help feeling a little excited to finally receive them, because…well…cats. 🙂 I am sure my fussy feline would agree! She’s a very picky eater, but loves most crunchy nibbles and Lick-e-Lix so these new additions to her menu will probably be most welcome…Fingers crossed!

I’m also quite excited about trying out the products from Skin Chemists as I’ve heard a lot of good things about how bee venom can benefit skin. Its effectiveness is (apparently) similar to snake venom (another popular ingredient at the moment) but I never got round to testing that because a lot of the well-recommended brands are pretty expensive. Actually, Skin Chemists isn’t cheap either, the bee venom moisturiser you see in the above pic costs over £40 in most stores (though you can get it much cheaper on eBay), so I wasn’t about to turn them down when they emailed to ask if I’d be interested in posting a review if I got it for free.

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Although I’m not generally too fussed about perfumes, Penhaligon’s fragrance profiling nearly changed my mind. I say “nearly” because all of this store’s aromatic merchandise comes with a hefty price tag, which is a bit of a disappointment to me as the chosen scents – Luna and Lothair – were exquisite, layered, and definitely to my taste.

The necklace was a lucky find as I’d been looking for something similar when I came across a facebook advert for it a few months back. I presume it was leftover stock Save Our Oceans needed to get rid of, because all I had to pay was shipping. All in all, a bargain!



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Just a quick mention of the next two Boxcitement deliveries I received – the January and February boxes. I would have blogged about them sooner, but so sorry I haven’t really had a chance to due to illness.

 

 

As I’ve started to amass quite a collection, I have set up a gallery with photos of each mystery item from every month. Feel free to browse through them on Google Photos if you’re interested in subscribing to Boxcitement’s service, and would like an idea of what you’d be signing up for.

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So far this year, I have loved everything they sent me, particularly the weekly planner pad, monthly goal checklist, and birdcage necklace. Some of the contents, though lovely and unique, aren’t really to my taste and are more my daughter Zhouyi’s style (like the wraparound bracelet above), so I gave them to her. Between the both of us, nothing in these boxes ever get the thumbs down.

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My only gripe is the chains supplied with the necklaces…they’d match the quaint look of the pendants far better if they were burnished brass rather than silver. I’ve got some of my own pseudo-antique chains and jump rings, so I swapped them as soon as I could, and look what a difference it’s made.

Icy storms and ill health notwithstanding, we’ve not had a terrible winter. What’s life without a hiccup or two? I’m certainly not complaining about all the treats that have come my way! Despite that, I wish spring would hurry up and get here, because it’s chilly up in my lofty lair, and I’ve had enough of filling up hot water bottles!