Make my grass greener

To content | To menu | To search

Monday 19 August 2013

Basic moisturizer recipe

This recipe is intentionally very simple. You can use it as a template to make your own custom-made creams. You can get different textures and effects on your skin by slightly changing the proportions of oil, water and emulsifier, using different vegetable oils, floral waters, water-based gels, and various active ingredients.

You can use volume measurements for liquid and dry ingredients, and have fairly consistent results, but if you want to reproduce a recipe exactly, use weight measurements for the dry ingredients. To make a basic fluid moisturizer you’ll need:

Ingredients (yield, approx. 100ml)

  • 10 ml Vegetable oil or butter (oil phase)
  • 82 ml floral water, infusion or aloe vera gel (aqueous phase)
  • 5 g. co-emulsifier (I use Olivem 1000 with very good results)
  • About 20 drops preservative (choose a broad-spectrum one, preferably certified as suitable for organic cosmetics; the one I use is called Cosguard)

And that’s it! You can of course add essential oils, scents, plant extracts, vitamins and whatever else fits your skin’s needs to make the moisturizer a bit more potent. The above ingredients will make a very basic moisturizer that will already have the benefits of the chosen oil and aqueous phase.

Tools needed:

  • 1 small bowl (stainless steel is ideal, it’s non-reactive, easy to clean, and it conducts heat/cold very quickly, but glass or porcelain are fine too – avoid plastic as it can leach toxic substances in the moisturizer during the heating process, or reactive metal such as tin or aluminum)
  • 1 small saucepan wide enough so the stainless steel bowl fits in it, with its bottom partially immersed in simmering water (to make a bain-marie)
  • 1 bowl, big enough for the moisturizer bowl to fit, filled with ice cubes
  • Measuring tools, or electronic scales
  • 1 small whisk, hand or electrical (I’m a lazy girl so I use a small electric one that’s actually a cappuccino foamer)
  • 1 small silicon spatula or a big syringe to transfer the moisturizer in the final container
  • 1 container for the moisturizer (pot, tube, bottle…)
  • Labels

Tools

NOTE: it is best to have tools used exclusively for making cosmetics, but if you don’t want to invest too much right away, you can use cooking utensils. Just make sure you clean them very well before and after using, and avoid using wood and plastic, because you wouldn’t want to risk making cream that smells like garlic, or eat salad with a cosmetic fragrance aftertaste.

Method:

  • Very important first step: sanitize all the equipment before use (bowls, measuring and mixing tools, container). I start by washing everything in very hot water with a squirt of dishwashing liquid, air dry or dry with a clean tea towel, and then wipe with 70° rubbing alcohol just before use.
  • Very important second step: wash your hands really well, clean the surface you’ll work on and put a couple of clean tea-towels on it to catch any messes.
  • Measure the oil and pour in the bowl.
  • Measure or weigh the emulsifier and put in the bowl.
  • Measure the aqueous phase (mineral or floral water, aloe vera gel…) and pour in the bowl.

05_oil_2.jpg

  • Put the bowl in the saucepan filled with water so the bottom of the pot is immersed, and heat over a medium flame.

06_cooking_2.jpg

  • When the water simmers, lower the flame and heat up until the emulsifying wax has melted.
  • When the emulsifier is completely melted, remove the bowl from the pot (using a cloth or heatproof gloves to handle it of course, because it will be very hot).
  • Using the electric or handheld whisk, start by mixing thoroughly the melted/heated ingredients. The mix will become white and opaque, but it will still be very liquid.
  • Put the moisturizer bowl in the ice bowl to speed up the cooling process, and keep on whisking. The cream will thicken as it cools.

08_mixing_4.jpg

  • You can now add the preservative and essential oils or organic fragrance. Just count the drops, and mix in using the whisk.

10_container_2.jpg

  • You can now pour/spoon the moisturizer in the clean pot.
  • Label your creation (I usually put the main ingredients I used and the date) and enjoy!

11_labelling_2.jpg

A word on conservation: Cosmetics made in optimal hygiene conditions will usually keep for 2 to 3 months. I’ve made creams stored in airless pumps that lasted a bit longer, but always use caution and common sense: if the cream gets moldy, separates, smells off or rancid, throw it away. Another word of caution: just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s harmless, so be careful when using essential oils, they are active ingredients that get absorbed by the skin and go in the bloodstream. Finally, stop using if you have any redness, discomfort or burning sensation.

Supplies: I buy my ingredients from this supplier: Aroma Zone They ship internationally, but their website is all in French (they have an English version but it’s very limited, it only covers the essential oils they sell). They also have fantastic resources, tutorials (again, all in French), and I’ve always been very happy with their service. They ship quite fast, they have good prices (and no I’m not sponsored by them in any way…) I also make my own oil macerations and floral waters (more to come about that), and buy some of my raw ingredients (oils, butters, clays) in local organic shops. I did a quick google search and found a few English-speaking online shops, based in the US, the UK and Australia. They all seem to have an OK selection but I can’t vouch for them because I haven’t tried them. http://www.theherbarie.com/ http://www.lotioncrafter.com/ http://essentialoilsonline.co.uk/index.html http://www.ofasimplenature.webeden.co.uk/# http://www.nccosmetics.com.au/home

Photos by the lovely Mara Pellizzari

Thursday 15 November 2012

Chicken, fennel and celery soup

This recipe was born out of my efforts to reduce waste. I had some leftover chopped fennel on the verge of death, a small bunch of wilted celery stalks, a couple of scallions, and some double cream that needed to be used.

I wanted something comforting and high in protein, that's how the chicken came up, plus I had some homemade chicken broth in the fridge. Given the anise flavor of the fennel, you could probably use salmon (or cod) and fish broth, or even veganize it using tempeh and vegetable based cream.

Serves 1

Finely dice:

3/4 cup celery 1/2 cup fennel

Sauté in a tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

When the vegetables become a bit translucent and slightly reduced in volume, add about 1 cup 1/2 chicken broth (homemade preferably), 1/3 cup thinly sliced scallion (white and green part) and bring to a simmer. Cook over medium-low flame until the vegetables are tender.

fennel.jpg

untitled-107241042.jpg

Add about 100 grams chicken breast cut into bite-sized cubes.

Simmer until chicken is cooked through (about 5 minutes, but be careful not to overcook, or the chicken will be tough).

Stir in a splodge of cream. Season with freshly ground pepper and a touch of chili flakes.

scallions-1.jpg

Enjoy!

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Work in progress

Here's a little preview of a knitting project I'm working on at the moment.

WIP 4WIP 3WIP 2WIP 1

Friday 16 March 2012

Fried sticky black rice with sweet potatoes

Ingredients (feeds 6 as a side dish, 4 as a main course)

4 cups cooked Thai black rice

1 pound sweet potatoes

2 medium onions

A piece of fresh ginger (about 4 cm)

1 small bunch of chives

2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce

Japanese chili mix to taste

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

4 tablespoons of olive or coconut oil (you may need a bit more if you use a cast iron pan)

Rinse, peel and cut the sweet potatoes in small cubes. Put them in a baking dish, coat with 2 tablespoons of oil and bake at 200°C for about 30 minutes, or until they are lightly caramelized on the bottom and cooked through. Alternatively, heat the oil in a pan, and brown the cubes, then add ¼ cup water to the cubes, cover the pan and let the cubes cook over low heat until lightly caramelized on the bottom and cooked through. Set the cooked cubes aside.

Peel and finely dice the onions. Peel and grate the ginger on a microplane grater (or chop very finely). Heat a sauté pan (the same you used to cook the sweet potatoes if you opted for the sauté version), and sauté the onions and the ginger in 2 tablespoons of oil, over medium heat. When the onions are translucent, add the rice, the sweet potato cubes, the soy sauce and stir to mix the ingredients well and heat the rice through if you’re using cold rice over medium heat. Stir constantly so the rice won’t stick (too much) in the pan. Season with Japanese chili mix (the quantity depends on how much heat you enjoy), scatter the sesame seeds and the chopped chives on the fried rice.

How to cook Thai sticky black rice (also called Black glutinous rice, it’s not the same as forbidden rice)

Rinse and soak the black rice overnight (very important, without the soaking it takes hours to cook) Drain and rinse again (beware, the water becomes blackish purple and it stains!) Cover with water (1 part rice for 3 parts water), add a pinch of salt and boil for about 20 minutes or until the rice is cooked through. Drain the remaining water and let the rice steam, covered with a lid, for about 20 minutes. Fluff the rice (well, since it’s glutinous rice, it will be very sticky, but it needs to be stirred a bit). This rice freezes really well in small portions. You can also use it to make sweet rice puddings.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Web wanderings

Ah, internet, time-wasting machine, or bottomless sea of knowledge?

Here are the pearls I found this week:

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Either way, you must watch this video about the power of introversion.

More introversion goodness in this NY Times article.

A beautiful article about women and beauty products.


I'm not on Pinterest but these days, I noticed that a lot of people talk about their terms of use and more:

Kristen deleted her Pinterest boards, she explains why.

Another interesting article about the terms of use of Pinterest and various networking sites.

Tought-provoking article on content sharing, images and the importance of context.

More on the subject of content and image sharing, source crediting and internet manners.

Expat life series: Moving to another country as a couple

In the Expat life series, I will share the things I learned, my experiences, and the various aspects (good and bad) of living abroad.

Maybe you’ve been there, maybe you’re thinking about it, maybe you’ve done it. But you could sum it up like this: you meet someone, you fall in love, you become a couple, all is well and then one day, you decide move to another country.

Sometimes, you both want to experience something different. Sometimes, one of the partners has to move for work or to study. Sometimes, it’s just one of the partners who wants to go. The end result is that you both decide to go for it and move. As always, there are two sides to the coin. On the one hand, you won’t be alone and will have your partner’s emotional support, but on the other hand, moving to a different country, while very exciting, is also very stressful, and like any major life change, it is bound to have an effect on your relationship.
Here are a few possible scenarios of what can happen, loosely inspired by real-life couples (note that these scenarios are about Western people who immigrate out of choice, I can’t pretend to know much about other types of expatriation):

Chris and John are Australian. They have been dating for five years and they just got married. They both decide to move to Italy because they want to experience something new and broaden their horizons. Plus, they were always interested in Italian culture. Chris has a good job but she’d have to quit to move. John makes good money as a freelancer so the deal is that he’ll support her until she finds work in their new country. She quits her job, they pack their bags, and off they go to Rome. John never lived outside of Australia and he gets a serious case of culture shock. He immerses himself fully in the Italian lifestyle and reevaluates his values on a very deep level. As for Chris, she doesn’t speak Italian very well and has a harder time than expected finding a job. She takes it really badly because she’s never been unemployed before. Her self-esteem suffers, she becomes increasingly negative about her situation and John starts resenting her. Chris feels like she doesn’t know John anymore, he has changed a lot. Communication becomes harder and harder, they fight more and more. They try couple’s therapy, but eventually, they break-up.

Frederik and Rie are Danish. They have been together for a year. Frederik is offered a great job in France and decides to take it. He asks Rie if she wants to come with him. They’re not sure about having a long distance relationship. Rie has a job she doesn’t really like, and she really loves Frederik so she decides to go, plus, she studied French in school for a couple of years. She quits her crappy job, packs her stuff and off they go. Frederik agrees to support her until she finds a job. Luck is on Rie’s side, she finds a job very quickly. Frederik is very happy with his job, but this change of life also reveals sides of him that Rie doesn’t like so much, and vice versa. Rie picks up French quite quickly, which helps a lot. She’s a bit shy though, and between her job and her relationship, it’s not easy meeting new people and making real friends. She misses her family and friends back home and it’s harder to deal with the negative aspects of her relationship without her usual network of support. They have a couple of big fights, they both wonder whether to call it quits, but love prevails and their relationship comes out stronger.

Cécile and Julien are French. They met when they were students and fell in love. All things Spanish fascinate Cécile. She always wanted to move there and in a way, she feels she was born in the wrong country. Julien grew up in the city they live in. He has lots of friends here, a good job, but he really loves Cécile so he agrees to move to Madrid with her. She thrives there, even if they live in a tiny place in a seedy neighborhood and even if her job is not the best: she’s IN SPAIN!! Julien, on the other hand, is not doing great. He tries hard, but learning Spanish is quite difficult, and he just can’t seem to find a job in his field. Cécile tries to support him and to cheer him up (and on), but she starts to feel like Julien is more and more of a burden. They decide to go on a month-long trip in Asia to clear their heads and try and reconnect. When they come back, they break up. The things they want are just too different. Julien goes back to France, and two months later, Cécile meets a dark brooding Spanish man and falls in love with him.

What these scenarios* show is that moving to a new country will upset the existing balance in a relationship. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you will definitely have to deal with it.
If you’re planning to move as a couple, here’s what you should keep in mind:
  • It will probably be harder than you though.
  • You will see aspects of your partner that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
  • Some of these aspects will be good, some of them will be bad, so you both have to be clear about what you’ll be able to tolerate or what will be a deal breaker.
  • Because at first, it will be just the two of you, you will live in some sort of a bubble for a while where you’ll be each other’s all, which could end up being stifling.
  • Which is why it’s super important (dare I say vital) that you both make friends on your own.
  • On the subject of making friends, it will be easier to meet new people if each partner also socializes on their own, because a couple is sometimes less approachable.
  • If you’re the one behind the initial impulse to move, be aware that your partner could find it difficult to adjust so be patient with them.
  • If you’re the one that follows, be aware that you may, at some point, resent your partner for making you give up your old life. In a way, you did give it up, but remember that it was also your choice, so embrace the experience and make it your own.
  • Make sure you have a long and thorough talk about finances, how the costs will be shared etc.
  • Even if you may not want to think about it, try and imagine what would be the worst-case scenario and make sure you have a plan B and, ideally, enough savings should this worst case scenario come true.
  • There is no right or wrong way to deal with the expatriation experience so don’t judge or belittle your partner’s experiences and observation.
  • Beware of the green-eyed monster: the locals will be all new and exotic, and you may catch your partner checking the sultry Italian babes, the cool French guys or the long-legged Scandinavian blondes a bit too much. And as an expat, you will be automatically exotic, hence attractive. So in my book, it’s OK to look, and harmless flirting can be delightful, but beware of temptations.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Becoming an expat couple can be a risky venture, but when I look at all the couples I’ve met, here’s my non-scientific conclusion: the relationships that didn’t make it had what you might call structural flaws from the get go and moving to another country merely revealed them, made them worse at times, but it didn’t cause them. If the relationship is healthy and if both partners are willing to make an effort, it will be stronger in the end. And they can be proud of the fact that they did something brave and survived, as an individual and as a couple!

*I know, in my examples, two couples out of three don’t make it, I just couldn’t find a fourth example with a happy ending that was good enough!

Sunday 11 March 2012

HOW I DID IT SERIES – Part 1 : growing out colored hair

The name of this series is quite self-explanatory, and its purpose will be to share my experience and the process that led me to drop a bad habit, take up a good one, achieve a goal etc. The first installment is about quitting hair dye :-)

My love affair with bleach and hair color started when I was 19, and during the next decade, I went through many shades of pale blonde. Aside from a botched bleach job that left me with yellow hair, my color looked pretty good, and being a pale-skinned natural dark blonde, it didn't look too artificial. Sure, the upkeep was a bit of work, and even though I colored my hair myself, it was still another expense in the name of beauty. I conditioned the hell out of my hair and it held up quite OK.
And then, 6 years ago, I moved from Paris to Barcelona. Needless to say, after 6 months there, with the sunnier climate and a few week-ends at the beach, my beige blonde hair ended up brassy and dry, and my usual tricks didn't work anymore. That's when I decided to grow my colored hair out and get reacquainted with my natural color. I had a first try but after 4 months I had horrible roots, and I gave up and ran to El Corte Inglès, bought a box of beige blonde dye and bam, I felt momentarily better but was back to square one. I need to strengthen my resolve, so I did what I always do in such cases: I made a list to remind myself of why it was a great idea to stop bleaching my hair:

  • Less chemicals on my skin.
  • Healthier hair.
  • Less money spen.
  • One beauty routine less = more time to do other thing.

Of course, there was a list of cons to take into account:

  • darker roots with lighter tips don't look great after a certain point
  • to chop or not to chop dilemma
  • fear of not being as pretty with my natural color

Finally, the pros won and I grew it all out. It took me 3 years to have 100% virgin hair. It’s been six years now since I quit coloring my hair, and it’s absolutely worth it.
First of all, my natural color is quite nice, and my virgin hair is really shiny. After a decade of abuse, I had completely forgotten that hair is supposed to be soft as is and not after coating it with tons of conditioners, repairing serums etc. I still condition the tips because they’re quite long, and I just wash them using a mild shampoo two or three times weekly.

If you want to go back to your roots and keep the length of your hair, here's a bunch of tried and true tips from yours truly:

  • Start by letting your roots grow out as long as you feel comfortable with
  • Get lowlights or highlighs to blend the natural roots and the tips (for that, go to a very good hairdresser)
  • Get a good haircut that will grow out nicely
  • Massage your scalp daily Brush your hair everyday with a natural bristle brush, it will remove the dead hair, stimulate the scalp and help distribute the natural oils of your scalp on the lengths or your hair.
  • Use plants that will enhance your natural color, either in shampoos or as rinses (chamomile, lemon and rhubarb for blondes, henna for redheads, indigo for black hair, black tea, rosemary or sage tea for brunettes)
  • Sprinkle nutritional yeast on your salads, eat lean protein and a bit of nuts every day (vitamins B and protein promote healthy hairgrowth) Add a few drops of pimenta racemosa essential oil to your shampoo or to your vinegar rinse; this essential oil promotes hair growth (as always, essential oils are very potent so proceed with caution, and stop using if your scalp is irritated)
  • Experiment with updos and different ways to style your hair
  • If you're really sick of your hair, accessories, scarves and hats are your friends
  • Be patient, hair grows about 1.5 cm per month, so you're in this for a couple of years, but I can assure you, it is totally worth it.

The main benefit is that healthier hair means simpler routines. This will be the subject of another KISS installment, so stay tuned.

Friday 9 March 2012

KISS SERIES – Part 1: Skincare

KISS is the acronym for Keep It Short and Simple (or Keep It Simple Stupid, or Keep It Short and Sweet, you get the idea!). This series is be about the routines and practices I managed to simplify or that I’m trying to simplify. The first installment is about my facial care routine.

From my teenage years to my late twenties, I was a marketer’s wet dream. I bought tons of cosmetics, creams, washes, masks, special treatments… You name it, I tried it. I avidly read glossy magazines in search of the new miracle treatment that would give me perfect skin and shiny hair (yes, I was young and stupid). I loved reading up on celebrities’ beauty routines, hearing about my girlfriends’ tricks and methods, and I knew more about the products I bought than the salespeople I spoke to. I spent HOURS at Sephora and in the beauty aisles of my local Monoprix (not to mention money, ahem). Since I had already caught the DIY bug, I also made my own masks and scrubs, and regularly clogged the bathroom sink with my mixtures!

My routines involved loads of steps with various potions and lotions that had very specific uses (elbow moisturizer, neck gel and forehead scrub, lip plumper and lower eyelid mask…) and took hours. It was all very enjoyable, and it was an exercise in self-care in a way, but over the years, I found other things that were quite interesting to do with my time. I still used traditional cosmetics, but I started using less.

The real shift happened about 6 years ago. I started reading lots of scary things about all the different chemicals in my products, and being a grown-up with a full-time job, I just didn’t feel like spending 3 hours in the bathroom daily. I also spoke with several dermatologists who explained that it really is best to use mild products no matter what your skin type, and that scrubs and exfoliation are a bad idea, because they irritate the skin and make it more sensitive and paradoxically more prone to breakouts. Two sentences stuck with me: “Skin will eat but it doesn’t digest.” “Excessive exfoliation irritates the skin and makes it dull and lifeless.”

I decided to drastically simplify my routines, phase out the regular cosmetics I used and replace them with organic or DIY substitutes, or do without whenever possible. It took time, a lot of trial and error, and even though I use considerably less chemicals, I’m still far from perfect. One thing I realized in the process of simplifying is that less is definitely more. My skin looks way better than it did when I was using loads of products. For the record, my skin type is combination, sensitive, dehydrated and prone to breakouts (to put it mildly, it’s annoying).

My routine is as follows:

Morning:

  • Spray face with floral water (usually rosewater when my skin tends to be on the greasier side, orange blossom water when it feels drier and sensitive)
  • Moisturize (including neck and eye contour) and gently massage my face using circular and upward motions, with a DIY lotion (the ingredients list: aloe vera gel, calendula oil, emulsifying wax, rose essential oil and organic preservative).

And that’s it.

Simple evening routine:

  • Remove eye make-up with organic micellar water.
  • Clean face using the infamous oil cleansing method, (or OCM): massage oil into face and neck using circular motions for a good minute, wet a washcloth with the hottest possible water, wring it, drape it on face to steam it for about a minute and then wipe the oil gently. I use virgin coconut oil or a mix of almond oil and grapeseed oil. Note that you can remove eye make-up with the oil, it works pretty well for some, but I noticed that no matter how carefully I wiped the oil from my eyelids, I always woke up with puffy eyes. That is why I now use a micellar water for my eyes.
  • Spray face with floral water (optional, I just really like the sensation and the scent).
  • Moisturize with DIY face oil. At the moment, I’m using a mix of blackcurrant seed oil and plum seed oil, it smells delicious, like sweet almonds, and it’s very nourishing).

Simplest evening routine when I'm in a hurry or really tired:

  • Remove make-up (face and eyes) with organic micellar water.
  • Spray with floral water.
  • Moisturize and massage face with a couple of drops my oil blend. And that’s it.

As you can see, I’m yet another French girl who doesn’t use soap or foaming cleansers on her face.

Here are the benefits of my daily routine:

  • It saves time.
  • It uses very little to no chemicals.
  • My cosmetics bag take very little space in my bag when I travel.
  • My skin has less breakouts, it is much more even in tone and it requires way less products to look good.
  • It saves money in the long run.

However, there are aspects of it that may be considered as downsides:

  • The OCM involves stocking up on washcloths, and these will need to be thoroughly washed after each use.
  • You may need a few tries before you get it right.
  • If you want to DIY your products, there will be a learning curve, so be prepared to end up with batches of moisturizers that smell horrible, that don’t work, or to realize that an ingredient that you so wanted to like does nothing for your skin (I’m looking at you, cocoa butter!! You smell so good but damn did you clog my pores! And that goes for shea butter too…).

In conclusion, the KISS approach to daily skincare may need a bit of practice and adjustment but it’s completely worth it.

Wednesday 29 February 2012

Why "Make my grass greener"?

The name comes from the expression “Grass is always greener on the other side”. Green is also the color of nature, prosperity and ecology (of madness too!).

Over the years, I’ve strived to lead a greener life, and in the process, I realized that enjoying what you have is key to leading a happier life. I managed to figure certain things out, still struggle with others, and I feel it's now time to share my knowledge and my questions with others.

This blog is about tending to one’s own lawn rather than eyeing the neighbors’ and making depressing comparisons, about striving to lead a life that’s greener, simpler and full of beauty and love.