December 11, 2009

All I Want For Christmas...

Every year when my kids ask me what I want for Christmas I tell them, "Peace on Earth." I would settle for peace in my general vicinity but as with most folks there always seems to be some drama or excitement going on. At least I'm never bored! My favorite part of the holidays is the family and friend time. I look forward to being surrounded by loved ones exchanging gifts, hugs and laughs.

This is going to sound really hokey but I really do love to give. Receiving is nice but not necessary. If I could I would love to give my children everything they desire. A new car. An acceptance letter from Harvard Divinity. A good job with good pay. Financial security all around and good health would be a bonus. Can I do this? Of course not! They have to work for these things and then they will hopefully reap the rewards. The best gift I can give them is my unconditional love and support, and that I do and have done all of their lives. Unfortunately you can't wrap that up and put it under the tree so I will have to come up with something a bit more tangible.

So what do I really want for Christmas? How about snow on Christmas day? Okay so that's a wish. How about a quiet day spent with my family or an evening out with my husband? Realistically I'd like a toaster that actually works properly - a four slice toaster that does bagels, thank you! A day at the spa is always welcomed. Oh, and as long as we're dreaming, remember diamonds are a girl's best friend. I'm just saying...

What's on your wish list?

December 4, 2009

Chocoholics Unite!

It's getting pretty cold even here in the south and that makes me want to sit by the fire with a delicious cup of hot chocolate and the treat du jour. Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around hot chocolate, even if I did live in Florida. We used to go ice skating in the summer (yes, it was an indoor rink) and they sold scalding hot chocolate in Styrofoam cups. It was amazing to be cold in July! I gulped down the boiling brew with my friends while throwing the shaved ice from the Zamboni at one another after our skating sessions. Ahh, good times!

I freely admit that I'm a chocoholic and it is my humble opinion that really good hot chocolate does not come in a pouch you add boiling water to. No, my friends, you must work for really great things and rich, decadent hot chocolate is one of them. You can go to Williams-Sonoma and purchase their shaved hot chocolate but I prefer to make my own mix and keep it sealed in a canister or Tupperware for use at my leisure, not to mention I can tweak it to my personal preference.

Easy Shaved Hot Chocolate Recipe:
Chocolate, any kind, any flavor but keep in mind the finer the chocolate the better the brew.

Using a food processor or sharp knife, chop the chocolate course bits. You want it to be small enough to melt quickly in hot milk. Store chocolate shavings away from heat in a sealed Ziplock, airtight Tupperware or sealed food-safe cello bag inside of a decorative tin and use within 2-3 months. Trust me the use-by-date won't be a problem!

To Make:
  • Milk, whole is preferable but you can substitute 2% if you must.
  • Unsalted Butter, optional but amazing
  • Flavoring of choice
Heat 8 ounces of milk gently on your stove top (or quickly in your microwave oven) and add 1 ounce (about 3 Tablespoons) of the chocolate shavings and stir to melt completely. Tada! You have just made one crazy-good cup of cocoa. Take note from my previously mentioned childhood experiences and make sure you don't make the milk too hot. To make a super rich treat add 1 teaspoon of unsalted butter to the milk before heating. Not dietetic by any means but oh so yummy!

Flavor Additions:
  • Flavored chocolate such as peppermint, white chocolate, dark, semi-sweet or milk chocolate bars.
  • Want an Aztec experience made easy? Try the Dagoba Xocolatl Bar with chilies and cocoa nibs, or add a touch of chili powder (just a touch!) to your cup.
  • Add a dash (or more) of Grand Marnier, Peppermint Schnapps, Kahlua, Godiva or Baily's Irish Cream and top with whipped cream.
  • Add any variety of flavor extracts or drink syrups available at your local gourmet market. You only need a touch as they are concentrated. Imagine butterscotch hot chocolate with french vanilla whipped cream drizzled with butterscotch sauce. Mmmm!
  • Garnish with mini chocolate morsels, chocolate curls, colored candy sprinkles or crushed peppermint candies. Rim the edge of the cup a la martini style with colored sugars or edible glitter.
  • Add a swizzle stick. Candy canes, cinnamon sticks or make your own chocolate stirrers with plastic spoons dipped in chocolate.
Here are a few ideas for gifts for your favorite chocoholic: (hint, hint)
  • For the young or young-at-heart Gingerbread Boy S'Mores from William-Sonoma (LOVE this place!)
  • Handmade Marshmallows? Yes!! Melt in your mouth or your cocoa, these blocks of deliciousness will forever change your views on marshmallows in a bag: 2 Sisters Cookie Bakery
  • Create a basket of heavenly delights including your homemade cocoa mix, a large mug, a selection of small bottles of liqueur, decadent chocolates or fancy cookies and a box of handmade marshmallows (yes, Virginia, you can make your own).
Now go start a fire, slip into something cozy, whip up some insanely satisfying hot chocolate and curl up with your favorite (insert book, guy or girl, pillow, pet) - you get the idea.

November 29, 2009

Holiday Sales and Online Shopping Tips

I love shopping on the web and with independently owned businesses. Check out my faves list below and get all of your holiday shopping done in a snap!

Savor the Success Holiday Catalog (http://www.savorthesuccess.com/uploads/downloads/various/Savor_Catalog_2009.pdf)Savor the Success, a boutique social network and PR cooperative for women entrepreneurs, provides an easy way to support this movement with its second annual Holiday Catalog. Representing the best in beauty, baubles, baby gear and more, gift givers can find something for everyone on their list and support the economy.

Verve Cards (http://www.vervecards.com)
"VerveCards.com, home of “wry and snappy, never sappy” ecards for savvy senders, is running a 2-for-1 Holiday Sale starting Cyber Monday! Buy 1 Gift Membership, and get the 2nd one FREE! (Or, if you’re not yet a member, join for just $14.95, then get a FREE Gift Membership to give away.)

PSI Bands (http://www.psibands.com)
Shop Black Friday. NAUSEA FREE travel. Enjoy $3 off a set of Psi Bands on Amazon.com, http://bit.ly/5TKc4m, code: HAPITRVL

Celebrate Green (http://www.celebrategreen.net)
50% off 11 awesome eco-friendly gifts and one service from Celebrate Green! http://bit.ly/75TSXZ

CyberMonday Special: Enjoy FREE Gift/FREE Ship (US-48) on orders over $75 at ECStewart/CalligraphyPets http://ow.ly/GXEZ

Cyber Monday @ Biscuits by Lambchop: Free shipping & gift w/orders over $75 when you mention CyberMonday09http://bit.ly/77gCdC

Don't forget to shop Bidwell Botanicals' Cyber Monday Super Sale and save big! You will find gifts for everyone on your list, great prices, complimentary gift wrapping and free shipping to your door. We'll even throw in a free gift for you on orders totalling $50.00, and we will ship to you or direct to the recipient. It doesn't get any better than that!

Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!

November 24, 2009

Surviving the Holiday Blitz

It seems that the holidays rush in and out faster every year. I love this time of year and I want to savor and enjoy every moment of the family time, sparkling decorations and tradition. It is also our busiest time of year at Bidwell Botanicals so it's definitely a juggling act to get everything done and still have time to relax. I thought I would share a few strategies with you that I've come up with over the years that help me balance the crazy with the calm so I can enjoy the season.
  • I do a lot of my gift shopping online. Not only do I save gas and don't have to stand in line, I also find unique gifts that I wouldn't find in the big box stores.
  • Love to make cookies? Me too! Save time by making a base recipe and adding different ingredients to make lots of different cookies from one main batch!
  • Hosting a brunch? I started making breakfast casseroles a few years ago and they are delicious life savers! I put the main ingredients together the night before and pop it in the fridge. Remove 30 minutes prior to baking in the morning and you can serve it warm and have time to make mimosas and mingle with your guests.
  • Cooking for a crowd can wear you out. Try making as many things ahead of time as you can so you only have to make a few things the days of the feast. Desserts, side dishes and even the main course can be made in advance and reheated before serving. Here's a planning guide that helps.
Make it a priority to slow down and enjoy the warm feelings of the holidays that are here and gone so quickly. It's really the little things in life that make it all worth while. Spending time with your family and friends sharing good food, good drink and good conversation will help to make the season merry and bright. Cheers!

October 28, 2009

What is Your Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy by definition is the use of fragrances to affect or alter a person's mood or behavior. You likely experience it all the time without even being aware of it. For instance when I open the bag of coffee beans in the morning and sniff the exhilarating aroma of rich roasted coffee it actually makes me feel more energized even before my first cup. The intoxicating scent of fresh gardenias gives me a feeling of peace, as does the smell of rain.

Aromatherapists use essential oils of flowers, herbs and other botanicals to help heal and nurture their clients physically and spiritually. Lavender and vanilla are a psyche soothing combination while grapefruit and peppermint energize and rejuvenate. Clary sage helps to reduce stress and Pine Needle may bring a sense of well being, which explains why Christmas trees make me feel so good - or is it the presents 'neath the tree?

While essential oils are used by practitioners it is my opinion that all scents, smells, aromas, whatever you want to call them, can stimulate a response. Whether they bring back memories of places, people or time or give you a certain emotional or physical feeling, they do have an affect on us. The smell of pumpkin pie makes me feel cozy and comforted because it reminds me of holidays with family back home. Now for some that might induce a stressful feeling but thankfully it's a good one for me.

Do you surround yourself with fresh flowers? Have scent diffusers or candles burning? Revel in the grocery fruit aisle? What is your aromatherapy?

October 15, 2009

Think Pink!

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Bidwell Botanicals wants to do our part in helping to find the cure. We are offering our Think Pink Spa Pack at $5.00 off and donating 25% of the profits from this item to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The Think Pink Spa Pack is a delectable collection of our Spun Sugar spa products packaged in a beautiful eco-friendly pink organza tote. The set includes Hydrating Body Milk, Shea Butter Shower Crème and Lush Lip Care. We're including a pretty pink journal and bookmark while supplies last. Hurry! Sale ends on October 31st at midnight.

October 6, 2009

It Makes Scents!

It is a popular notion that memories can be triggered by aromas, but is this a scientific fact? You betcha! There is definitely science behind this phenomenon. Scent molecules are carried to the olfactory tract that just happens to reside next door to the amygdala which performs a primary role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions. Odor-evoked memories are usually emotionally potent and often very vivid.

You have probably had this occur uncounted times in your life and not even realized that scent was the trigger of the emotional memories you experienced. When I smell musky aromas like patchouli or a woody incense I am immediately transported back to the early 70's and a groovy little shop on the beach that sold all sorts of jewelry, t-shirts, black light posters and other various sundry items that my mother wouldn't let us look at. The memories are very distinct and include the senses of sight, sound and smell. I was only about 13 years old and though it was a really long time ago (more than I'd care to admit!) the memory feels very fresh, like it just happened yesterday.

Stimulating scents are all around you from the grilled burger aroma being pumped out by Burger King that makes you feel hungry, to the ever expanding home fragrance products now available on every grocery and drugstore shelf. In the cosmetic and household fragrance industry you will find many scents that are made to not only emit a pleasing aroma but to evoke pleasurable memories that will keep you coming back for more. Each holiday season when we bring back our Spiced Pumpkin body care line we have customers gushing about their memories of the aroma of homemade pumpkin pie wafting in the air from the kitchens of their mothers or grandmothers and it makes them feel warm and cozy all over. That's the idea!

Some scents have calming effects like lavender, chamomile and vanilla, while others are meant to energize and rejuvenate such as peppermint, grapefruit and neroli. Aromatherapy has its origins in antiquity and many holistic and alternative health practitioners value the therapeutic properties of essential oils to help treat myriad maladies including depression, migraines, stress and sinus problems. You have likely heard the term "Chakra" that has come into mainstream vogue of late but has actually been practiced for centuries. Chakra is a Sandskrit word that means "wheel of light". According to traditional Indian medicine Chakra refers to each of the seven energy centers located along the midline of the body starting at the base of the spine and ending at the crown of the head. It is said that when all the Chakras are open and radiant the Chakra system is balanced, creating harmony between the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of a person.

I believe there is a valid argument that the smell of almost everything can affect you. They may trigger vivid memories, offer healing when used properly or evoke feelings of energy, peace or comfort. I advise caution when using essential or plant-based oils as some are very strong and a number of them should be avoided during pregnancy. Now that you have a starting point why not check into ways to naturally modify your moods and possibly your over-all health? It makes scents, right?

October 2, 2009

What's New in October?

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Help Bidwell Botanicals and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation work towards a cure. We offer our Think Pink Spa Pack that includes our exclusive Spun Sugar Shea Butter Shower Crème, Hydrating Body Milk and Spun Sugar Lush Lip Care. The set comes packaged in our new eco-friendly pretty pink organza tote. We will donate 25% of our net sales from these gift sets to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Celebrate Autumn with the spicy goodness of Bidwell Botanicals' Spiced Pumpkin Artisan Soap. It's a little slice of heaven for your shower. Check out the Spiced Pumpkin Gift Set that includes our signature Spiced Pumpkin Sugar Scrub and Spiced Pumpkin Artisan Soap all wrapped in a festive fall package perfect for seasonal holiday gift giving.

September 21, 2009

Cosmetic Ingredients 101 - Part 2

Today we'll discuss some of the scary-sounding ingredient names on the labels of your favorite personal care products. I have heard comments about people scanning cosmetic labels for "bad" ingredients like acids, alcohols and hydrogenated oils when really most of these are pretty benign. Let's investigate a few of the more common ingredients in this category.

Stearic Acid: A wax-like fatty acid that is made from animal or vegetable fats/oils via hydrolization. We use the vegetable source in our products to help thicken and stabilize lotions and creams. Stearic Acid is also commonly used in the cosmetic industry to help harden soap bars.

Hyaluronic Acid: In cosmetics it is used as a hydrator that can hold 1000 times its own weight in water. It's useful in moisturizing treatments to aid dry and/or mature skin as it helps to hold moisture in the skin. It is also purported to help draw ingredients deeper into the skin, but that is still being studied. Hyaluronan is a major component of your skin, where it is involved in tissue repair. You might recognize the trade name Restylane. This is hyaluronic acid in injection form used by dermatologists to help fill in facial wrinkles by temporarily plumping the skin.

Cetyl Alcohol: A member of the fatty alcohol group this ingredient is typically made from vegetable matter like palm or coconut. It is used in cosmetic products as an emulsifier, emollient or thickening agent and is nothing like the alcohol you're used to seeing on the drugstore shelves.

Citric Acid: A weak organic acid that is found naturally in many fruits, and is abundant in citrus fruit such as limes and lemons. While there are myriad uses for citric acid it is typically used in cosmetic formulations to adjust the acidity (pH) or in combination with sodium bicarbonate to create an effervescent product such as bath bombs. It is also used in detergents and water softeners as a chelating agent.

So there you have it. These are only a very few of the typical ingredients found in products on your drugstore shelves or beauty counters. While the words "acid" and "alcohol" jump out at you from the ingredient label they are not always as scary as they sound. If you have any questions or suggestions regarding ingredients you would like to investigate, please leave your comments on this post.

September 16, 2009

Cosmetic Ingredients 101

Are you a label reader? I am and I always have been. I want to know what's in the stuff I put into and onto my body. I prefer to go organic if given the choice, but I'm not gonna lie, I love the variety of fragrances, flavors and colors available in the market today. I believe in a good balance between nature and science to make Bidwell Botanicals products safe, effective and as natural as possible and still have desirable fragrance and eye appeal. I'd like to think that other manufacturers of bath and body products do the same.

So, how do you know what these things are that you see on the product labels? You could do your homework and research the web looking up chemical names and botanical information, but that's time consuming and tedious for most us, and all resources are not accurate. You could trust the information you get from the website you buy your products from, but let's face it, you typically get the information they want to project rather than the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. To help you along your way I offer Cosmetic Ingredients 101. A continuing series of blog posts divulging the secrets of cosmetic and personal care ingredients including everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask, or you asked but you never got an answer that you understood.

Today we start with three very basic ingredient categories that are commonly used in the manufacturing of personal care products.
  • Water (Aqua): I know this is a no-brainer, but if you read the ingredient labels of water-based (hydrous) products you might see a lot of variation where water is concerned and it can be confusing. I've seen Distilled, Spring, Deionized and even Rain water listed as the first ingredient. Why so many different types? Water is not just water as it has minerals and chemicals depending on where it came from. We try to avoid using water with minerals or chemicals in it as it can create problems with other ingredients so we use steam distilled water and it is sterilized before inclusion in our formulas.

    Some products list herbal or fruit infusions complete with the herbs, fruits or what-have-you as their first ingredient. That's a bit misleading as the actual levels in these infusions rarely contain a significant amount of the botanical materials and they should be listed separately and probably further down on the list. That is not to say they don't add to the product efficacy, but you probably wouldn't want to use a facial toner, for example, that has a very high percentage of peppermint or citrus extract as it could prove irritating. Keep that in mind when you're perusing the myriad choices on the drug store shelf. If it's at the top of the list presumably there's more of it than what's at the bottom.

  • Sodium Hydroxide (aka Lye): This is a critical ingredient in soap making. It is not, however, present in its original form in the finished product, at least it shouldn't be. This is one of the reasons why many manufacturers don't list it on their ingredient disclosure. It is what makes oils and water into soap - period. At some point in the process of taking a variety of ingredients and combining them to make soap sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide will have to be included. This is true for all types of true soap, including most liquid soap products and melt and pour soaps (aka glycerin soap). Some syndet (synthetic detergent) bars can be made with surfactants and waxes but they are not considered a true soap by the legal definition. There are hybrids of soap and syndet out there but where there is soap there is, or at least was, lye.

    So if someone tries to tell you that they make soap without lye - well that's sort of a lie. They themselves might not be handling the lye but when the initial soap base was made it included lye or you'd have a puddle of oils and water in your soap dish. Any questions? No? Good. We'll move along then. (stepping off the proverbial soapbox)

  • Humectant: This is a broad category so we'll skim it today and delve deeper later. A humectant (pronounced hyoo-mek-tuh nt) is by definition: a substance that absorbs or helps another substance retain moisture. There are many varieties of humectants including natural and man-made sources such as honey, vegetable glycerin, lactic acid, propylene glycol and hyaluronic acid. All help to reduce transdermal water loss (TEWL) and attract and retain moisture.
All right students, that's all for today. Next time we'll examine some of the mysterious chemical names you can't decipher on the labels of your favorite beauty products. If you have any questions or suggestions regarding subject material please leave me some feedback. Class dismissed!

September 10, 2009

Keeping it Real

We all know that television commercials and glossy magazine ads are a form of creative marketing. By that I mean they embellish the truth - a lot. Commercials that promise long, lush, natural looking lashes are particularly amusing to me. You too can have the lashes of the stars if you purchase several pairs of mink false eyelashes, but realistically you're not going to turn average eyelashes into doe-eyes with mascara alone. Magazine ads that show models with flawless complexions and perfect bodies touting any number of products or services and eluding that you will get the same results are just a tad exaggerated. Actually not even the beautiful people are as perfect as they are portrayed with the wonders of photo and film editing creating unattainable perfection.

Now, admit it, you are compelled by some of these ads to try the products. I know I am and I'm thrilled when something does some of what it was advertised to do. Mostly I'm disappointed but I am also realistic. I know full well that I will never look like a 20 year old model telling me that if I use (insert product name) that I can have wrinkle-free, pore-less skin like hers. I didn't have skin like hers when I was twenty!

In partial defense for this mummery, selling products in a glutted market and hard financial times has to be very creative in order to first get our attention and second prompt us to buy. It's highly doubtful than anyone is going to use "real" women in ads to promote beauty products. I suppose it's just the nature of the beast. We want to be beautiful so they show us what our culture considers the epitome of beauty and encourage us to strive for that unrealistic portrayal.

In my humble opinion we are all beautiful in our own way. I think the old cliche about inner beauty being the most important is for the most part true. For without grace and beauty of the heart and soul of a person outward beauty is only a window dressing and nothing more.

September 3, 2009

Top Ten Reasons to Start Your Holiday Shopping Now!

It's already Labor Day Weekend! How did that happen? It seems the months just keep flying by and I can barely make plans and the month is over. I know most of you probably feel this way too, and that's why I'm offering my top ten reasons to start your holiday shopping now list:
  1. September quickly becomes December in a wink of an eye! Don't be fooled by glimpses of summer still in the air. We're heading into Autumn people, and you know what comes next!
  2. Take advantage of end of summer and Labor Day sales where you can scoop up all kinds of cute clothes, beachwear for the mid-winter vacation to the south and tons of gifts at outrageously cheap prices to store until December.
  3. If you're looking for something particular and unique do it now. You're likely not the only one looking for it and if it's truly unique there won't be many of them to go around. Jump on it!
  4. Holiday decorations are on sale all over the place right now. I picked up some very cool Thanksgiving table decorations for a very good price at Michaels. If you're planning on crafting decorations get in to your local craft store now as most are super stocked with supplies and you'll have time to get it done before the holidays begin.
  5. Shop online? I know that a lot of people think web shopping means instantaneous gratification. Those of us that supply you with goods also get crazy busy during this time of the year and we adore customers that put their big holiday orders in early. It gives us time to get things made and shipped in a timely manner. It also gives you time, God forbid, to exchange items that were not exactly what you wanted, wrong size, color, etc and get the returns to you on time.
  6. Lots of stores offer pre-holiday sales sometimes to move out old stock to make room for new items, but many times they cut prices on new items to make sure they make their profits early in the holiday shopping season.
  7. Things can get a little crazy around the holidays with relatives stopping in, school productions, office parties and more. Getting your gift shopping done, wrapped and ready to give in advance will take a bite out of the frantic times to come.
  8. Check for purchase incentives as many companies are offering buy 2 - get 1 free, or a gift with purchase that you can either keep for yourself or give to someone else.
  9. I don't do huge, angry crowds, especially during a season I prefer to feel joyous and at peace with the world. Let's face it - standing in line with a bunch of grumpy, tired and frustrated people on Christmas Eve all fighting for the last "insert item name" is not my idea of a good time. By getting out there now there's plenty of merchandise, I can spread my spending over a few months and skip the mobs in December.
  10. My top ten reason to start your holiday shopping now: (drum roll please) In the words of a wise comedian, "Git er done!" It never fails that if I procrastinate something happens and I wind up in an insane rush and for me that just takes the joy out of the holiday.
Those are my reasons to get a jump on your gift giving this year. In blog posts to come I'll give you some good suggestions on what to give, how to wrap it, where to buy and get great prices.
So put on your comfy walking shoes, make a list and check it twice, get a grip on that Visa and let's shop!!

August 26, 2009

Tomatoes and Peppers and Cukes, Oh My!

In my opinion there is nothing quite as satisfying as harvesting the fruits of our labors. It gives me a feeling of confidence, that if I had to I could provide my family with sustenance in hard times. Many years ago my young children helped me with the garden and I used this quality time to teach them that food doesn't just grow on the shelf in the grocery store. That people had to work hard to bring forth such goodness and we should be thankful for their efforts.

People ask me why I bother growing vegetables and fruits that I could easily pick up at Harry's or even the local grocery store. First and foremost, I don't consider this work. It's a hobby and a passion. I know it sounds hokey, but watching a seed turn into a plant that gives forth fruit - well that's just amazing to me. I like knowing how my produce was grown and that they have no pesticides or other chemicals in them. I like picking tomatoes just before we eat them or munching on a crunchy kosher dill that I made in my kitchen.

Life can be overwhelming in many ways. Working in the garden slows time down a bit. The simple tasks of weeding, pruning and picking produce seem to make my life a little less insane. I won't lie - I am thrilled by the look on someone's face when I serve them a tomato basil salad with fresh mozzarella and they swoon with delight. Sharing our bounty with friends, neighbors and even local restaurants makes me feel like I'm accomplishing some of my goals to make this a better world. Lofty, I know, but in my small way I'm making a difference in someone's life. My version of paying it forward.

Our summer garden is winding down with September right around the corner, but here in the south we can still grow things like peas, lettuce and spinach before the first freeze. Then I can spend the cold winter months planning my next garden, pouring through seed catalogs and searching the web for that perfect heirloom tomato I can grow next year. It's the little things in life, my friends.

August 24, 2009

Figs! Glorious Figs!

It's fig harvest time at Bidwell Botanicals. We love figs but the crop this year is insane! We leave the very top ones for the birds (also because we can't reach them). What to do with all of these luscious fruits? Here are a few ideas:
  • For an easy and delicious appetizer stuff ripe figs with goat cheese, wrap in prosciutto and grill or broil until warmed through. Drizzle with honey and serve warm. In a word: amazing!
  • Stuff chicken breasts with cheese, fresh spinach and chopped figs. Bake until chicken is done and serve with couscous or wild rice.
  • Eat them on ice cream, sliced into salads, or fresh off the tree.
  • Make preserves, chutneys or freeze figs in syrup (http://www.pickyourown.org/figs.htm)
  • Share them with friends, neighbors or local restaurants.
Check out the CDC for more information on figs: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov/month/figs.html

August 12, 2009

Dog Days

It's mid-August in the south and it is hot. How hot, you ask? Well it's so hot that the tar on the street is squishy. It's so humid that my carefully straightened hair now looks like I have a perm. Now that's hot! What can you do during these Dog Days of summer to stay relatively cool? I've got a few suggestions:
  • If you have a pool or access to one by all means use it! There's nothing like floating in cool water to help bring down the temperature. Add a cold glass of tea or lemonade to that and you have Nirvana.
  • Keep a fine mist spray bottle of water in the fridge. Add some lavender or cucumber hydrosol and use it to spritz the back of your neck, face, and anywhere else you require instant refreshment.
  • Drink plenty of water. There's nothing like dehydration to make you feel sluggish.
  • Speaking of dogs, DO NOT leave your pup in your car with the windows up when it's this hot! Remember to have plenty of fresh water for them to drink, especially if they stay outside during the day. They feel the heat too!
  • Dress in cool, comfortable clothing. Light colors not only look cooler they also help to reflect light and don't hold the heat like darker colors. Natural cottons, bamboo or hemp fibers are best.
Hang in there! The summer heat is nearly over for most of us. Personally I am looking forward to the first brisk morning of Autumn. Then I can start complaining about the cold.

July 26, 2009

What are Phthalates?

There has been a lot of talk about phthalates in the news lately and most of us probably never heard of them until now. Phthalates (pronounced tha-lates) are a group of chemicals used in hundreds of products like toys, medical supplies, vinyl flooring, food packaging and cosmetics. In cosmetics they are employed as solvents or plasticizers in products like perfume, nail polish and hairspray.

According to the FDA it is not clear what dangers phthalates may pose. In a study by the National Toxicology Program concluded that reproductive risks from exposure to phthalate esters were minimal to negligible in most cases. There are many reports and commentaries that link use of phthalates to reproductive damage due to exposure during fetal development, premature puberty and other endocrine disorders.

Because of the concerns many cosmetic and fragrance manufacturers are discontinuing the use of phthalates in their products, Bidwell Botanicals included. Though there is no conclusive research that definitively states the dangers we feel it is best for our customers to use fragrances and ingredients that are phthalate-free.

For more information about phthalates please visit the following web sites:

US FDA/CFSAN
- Phthalates and Cosmetic Products
Consumer Product Safety Commission - Guidance For Complying With Phthalates Requirements
P&G Beauty and Grooming - Phthalates Safety in Cosmetics
PCPC - Phthalates

July 15, 2009

The Summer Harvest Series - Part II

Let's continue talking about the things you can do with your backyard harvest of fruits and veggies as previously mentioned in the blog post: An Overabundance of Produce . There are numerous choices for pickling, canning and fresh use, as well as fresh skin care you can DIY. Skin care? With fruit and vegetables? Absolutely! Strawberries are astringent and wonderful for facial masques when mixed with, what else, cream or honey. Cucumbers are soothing and cooling and help to reduce redness and irritation. Oh, and figs are not just for jams and Fig Newtons! You can even use tomato and garlic for oily skin care. No really - you can!

Host a Girls Spa Night or have fun with your kids whipping up a bevy of delicious recipes for your skin. Here are a few easy DIY formulas to get you started.
  • Strawberry Cucumber Smoothie Facial Masque:
    (makes 1-2 applications)
    You will need:
    Fresh ripe strawberries - 3-4 large
    2-4 Cucumber Slices
    Honey - 1/2 tsp
    Cream or Half & Half - 1/2 tsp
    Olive Oil or Sweet Almond Oil (Optional - skip if your skin is oily)
    Glass or Plastic bowl
    Fork
    Small, clean paint brush with soft bristles (Optional)
    Wash and dry face or area to be treated prior to application.

    Cut off the stem and cut up the strawberries and place them in a bowl. Smash with a fork until smooth. Add the honey, cream and oil (if using) and blend together.

    Now for the fun part! It's easier, and more fun, if you have a partner for this procedure. Have them lie back and close their eyes. Place cool cuke slices on over their eyes to soothe and rejuvenate - it also helps to keep the masque out of their eyes especially when kids are doing this. Using your clean paint brush or clean fingers apply a thin layer of the strawberry mixture to the face avoiding the eye area. Relax for 5 - 15 minutes. Remove cucumber slices and wash face thoroughly, pat dry and use a moisturizer if desired. Discard any left over mixture.

  • Guacomole Hair Conditioner (makes 1 application)
    1 Ripe Avocado
    1/2 - 1 Cup Mayonnaise (depending on length of hair)
    Skin and remove the pit from the avocado. Place in a bowl with the mayonnaise mash and mix thoroughly until you have a creamy paste.
    Apply to scalp and hair and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap or a shower cap if you have one. Let the mixture sit on your hair for about 20-30 minutes. If you're doing this with youngsters you might have to cut that short but it will still help.

    When time is up remove covering from hair and wash as usual, making sure all of the product is rinsed out. Typically you don't need a conditioner as the treatment should suffice. Kids love this treatment because they get to put "Gak", as my kids called it, in each others' hair and they don't get yelled at for it! Discard any left over mixture.
More Quick Ideas:
  • Use the same method as the Guacamole conditioner and substitute ripe bananas or mango and plain yogurt for the avocado and mayo.
  • For a soothing moisture masque mix an envelope of plain Aveeno oatmeal and enough honey to make a paste. Pat onto clean face, very gently rub in a circular motion without tugging at your skin for about 5 minutes and rinse off with warm water.
  • For oily and blemish prone skin make a garlic and tomato masque. I know it sounds ridiculous, but trust me it works! If you can get deodorized garlic puree at a health food store that's best for obvious reasons. If not, well you'll keep the vampires at bay, but it might leave you craving lasagna. Mix into 1/2 cup of tomato puree or tomato juice - 1 tsp honey or glycerin, 1 tsp garlic puree. If using tomato puree you might want to add a little water to thin it just a bit. Smooth mixture over face and allow to set for 5-10 minutes, rinse clean with warm water.
Have fun being creative. Your kids and/or girlfriends will love you for it, and so will your skin!

July 13, 2009

An Overabundance of Produce

Every so often our gardens gift us with an overabundant harvest. This year it looks like it's going to be tomatoes and peppers. I'm not complaining. It's just that I have this really strong aversion to wasting things and I can only give away so many fruit and veggies to friends and family before they start running when they see me coming.

I am going to attempt to can salsa this year because we love it and I'll have all of the components readily available. I make it fresh all the time, but to put it up will be a new experience. I have been searching applicable recipes and thought I'd share a few with you. Salsa, it seems, can be made from almost any fruit or vegetable or a combination thereof.

Tomato Tips: There are a few guidelines to ensure the best quality salsa when canning. The type of tomato you use in important. Meatier, firmer tomatoes, such as Roma or other paste varieties hold up better than your average salad tomato. Don't use overripe or spoiled tomatoes for canning recipes. It's a "recipe" for disaster and the flavor will be undesirable to say the least. Green tomatoes and or tomatillo are also a good choice and can be substituted for all or part of the tomatoes. For recipes that call for peeled tomatoes you can easily skin them by dipping them in boiling water for about 30-60 seconds and drop them in a bowl or sink full of ice water. The skins will easily slip off.

Chile Tips: Peppers use in salsas can be anywhere from mild to super hot depending on your personal preferences. If you're using hot peppers do yourself a favor and wear rubber gloves while cutting them and for God's sake do NOT touch your eyes or any other part of your body until you remove the gloves and wash your hands as the result of not following this tip is not pretty - believe me!

Generally speaking the smaller the pepper the hotter it will be. Leaving the seeds in the recipe will increase this heat as the capsicum is concentrated in the seeds and pith of the peppers. You may sub out any chile for another, just keep in mind that the end result should be edible and not burn the skin off your tongue.

Some suggested milder varieties include Anaheim, Ancho, New Mexico 6-4, Big Jim, Chimayo, and Hungarian Yellow Wax. You can also sub in mild peppers such as sweet red, green or any other color bell peppers, Giant Marconi or the new varieties of mild jalapeno.

To take your salsa up a notch add any of the following chiles for a bit of fire: Serrano, Cayenne, Habanero, Chile Piquin, and Tabasco. Use sparingly unless you like to set your mouth on fire. Jalapeno peppers are a common choice as they add a bit of heat and unique tang to salsas and are readily available. If you don't grow peppers or can't find them fresh locally you can use canned chiles instead. For a change of pace try roasting your peppers and tomatoes (whole) on the grill to char the skin and place in a brown paper bag until cool enough to handle. The skins will just slide off leaving delicious roasted flavor to add to your salsa.

I won't go through the entire method for canning but suffice it to say for safety's sake follow the manufacturer's directions. Fill hot clean jars with the hot salsa, being careful not to leave any salsa on the rims. Wipe jar rims with a clean, damp paper towel. Put on lids and screw on metal bands. Process according to directions and test for seals when jars are cooled. Anything that is not completely sealed should be refrigerated and used within a few days. Do not - I repeat - DO NOT take any chances when it comes to canning. Botchulism is just not worth the risk!

Tomatillo Green Salsa

Yield: 5 pints

5 cups chopped tomatillos
1 1/2 cups seeded, chopped long green chiles
1/2 cup seeded finely chopped jalapeños
4 cups chopped onions
1 cup bottled lemon juice
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp ground cumin*
3 Tbsp oregano leaves *
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and stir frequently over high heat until mixture begins to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot salsa into pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner 15 minutes at 0-1,000 feet altitude; 20 minutes at 1,001-6,000 feet; 25 minutes above 6,000 feet.

You may use green tomatoes in this recipe instead of tomatillos.

*Optional

Chile Salsa

Yield: 7 to 9 pints

10 cups peeled, cored, chopped tomatoes
4 cups chopped onions
1 cup vinegar
6 cups seeded, chopped chiles*
3 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Combine ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. Ladle hot salsa into pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner: 15 minutes at 0-1,000 feet altitude, 20 minutes at 1,001-6,000 feet; 25 minutes above 6,000 feet.

*Use mixture of mild and hot chiles.

NOTE: The only changes you can safely make in these salsa recipes are to substitute bottled lemon juice for vinegar and to decrease the amount of spices and herbs. Do not alter the proportions of vegetables to acid and tomatoes because it might make the salsa unsafe.

A few links to spark your creativity:
One Particular Kitchen: Salsa Roja
Karina's Kitchen
How to can anything!

Have fun making delicious salsas to enjoy all year long

June 10, 2009

Skeeter Beaters

Summertime has a lot of good points: Warm weather, swimming pools, gardens blooming and many excuses to perfect your recipes for homemade ice cream and frozen drinks. Unfortunately in order to enjoy all of this outdoor activity we must deal with the ever present mosquito. They come in many shapes and sizes but all of them bite and are annoying, to say the least.

What attracts a mosquito attack on some and not others? There are many theories including what unique chemicals your perspiration contains, what you eat, the cologne you wear and even the color of your clothing. Each type of mosquito is attracted to different qualities. Needless to say they are drawn to moisture of any kind and breed like - well like mosquitoes - in even a tiny amount of standing water, so dump out any you see after it rains.

So how do we deal with these creatures without killing all the beneficial insects or poisoning our environment? Here's a few ideas on how to keep your summer evenings naturally mosquito free:
  • Citronella candles or oil torches lighted at intervals around your yard, patio or pool will help keep mosquitoes at bay. The carbon dioxide released while the candle or smoke rings burn is an additional deterrent.
  • Essential oils of citronella, lemongrass, geranium or cedar mixed with a carrier such as grain alcohol and dabbed or sprayed on skin and clothing will help to deter the biting bugs.
  • Don't have time or inclination to make your own brew? Try these natural commercial products: Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent, St. Gabriel Laboratories Organic Mosquito Repellent, Mosquito Fighter.
Enjoy your summer!

June 1, 2009

Why Exfoliate?

Many people ask this question when they are first confronted with a body scrub be it salt, sugar, pumice or any of the myriad varieties available on the market today. First, what does exfoliation mean? Basically it is the process of shedding flaky dead skin. An extreme example is when you peel after a sunburn (bad you!). Your skin exfoliates constantly as the cells reproduce and slough off. Scrubs are "mechanical exfoliants" like sandpaper on wood, but not that abrasive. Body scrubs are meant to gently abrade the surface of the skin to help speed up cell renewal by removing old cells.

Why do we need to help these lazy cells to jump ship and make way for the new cells? Let's get technical for a moment. Starting from conception your body begins to produce cells. This is a continuing process and as you grow and mature your body produces thousands upon thousands of cells to replace those that naturally die off, a process called apoptosis (AKA cell suicide). Not all cells reproduce and as you age even the ones that do start slowing down, especially skin cells. It's all down hill after you hit your mid-twenties. Sad, I know!

What all this boils down to is as you age your skin can start to look dull, drab and lifeless. If you have dry skin scrubs will help with the flakes and most will moisturize as well giving your skin a smooth, soft appearance. If you have oily skin you might experience a sludgy look due to over-production of sebum that can attract dirt and hang on to those pesky old cells. Using a good scrub will help eliminate the build up of old yucky skin cells and keep your skin bright and luminous.

Another reason to use a scrub is because you indulge in spray tanning. Ask anyone who's had this treatment what happens if your skin is flaky before application. They'll tell you that the "tan" can be uneven, discolored and will quickly flake off. Using a scrub with no greasy residue, like our Shea Butter Body Scrubs (on sale this month too!) will ensure a smooth results and a longer lasting tan. Ask your technician if they favor a particular product before your appointment date. You don't want to use something that will make your skin tacky or slick as the product won't adhere and blend correctly.

I hope this answers the question: Why Exfoliate? Your skin will feel and look fabulous. You'll wonder who you lived without them for so long. So what are you waiting for? Get glowing!

May 30, 2009

Minty Fresh

No herb garden is complete without mint. What would Derby day be without that quintessential drink the mint julep? It is a primary ingredient in Greek cuisine, adding a wonderful flavor to lamb dishes. Spring peas with mint is to die for!

Mint belong to the genus Mentha, in the family Labiatae (Lamiaceae) which includes other commonly grown oil-yielding plants such as basil, sage, rosemary, marjoram, lavender, pennyroyal and thyme. Within the genus Mentha there are several different species, varying in their appearance, aroma and end use. The most common ones are spearmint (M. spicata), peppermint (M. × piperita), eau-de-cologne mint (M. × piperita var. citrata) and apple mint (M. rotundifolia). All are low-growing plants, readily sending out runners, or stolons, which develop new roots and shoots at the nodes.

GROWING:
Mints do best in deep, rich soils of friable texture high in organic matter. The preferred pH range is from 6.0–7.5. A higher water requirement means that soils must be deep and well drained while holding plenty of water. That said, mint seems to grow anywhere it pleases.

Mint can be propagated either vegetatively or by seed. Vegetative propagation is achieved by digging up plants in late winter or early spring and dividing them into runners with roots, then replanting. This will prevent the plants from becoming root-bound and prone to disease, ensuring strong, healthy plants for the new season.

Be aware that mint is definitely invasive. It reproduces from long, creeping stems that spread out just under the soil surface whenever they get a chance. If you plant them directly in your garden we recommend you plant it in containers, preferably with bottoms, sunk into the soil. This is probably not going to contain it forever but it will buy you some time. We usually plant our mint in containers on our deck. This keeps it in check and in close proximity to our kitchen. If you're growing in pots remember you will need to water more often and use a diluted water soluble fertilizer since you'll be flushing the nutrients from the soil on a continuous basis.

VARIETIES:
To list all the available varieties of mint would take more space than we have available! The most commonly available are:
  • Peppermint: sweet, strong mint flavor. It flavors many candies. Shiny, dark green leaves, some with a purple tinge.
  • Spearmint: flavor stronger and less sweet than peppermint. The curly variety is very ornamental. Used to make traditional mint sauce for lamb.
  • Pennyroyal: a ground cover and a very tough plant that spreads quickly. Do not ingest pennyroyal, especially if you're pregnant. It's used as a bug repellent.
  • Corsican Mint: mat-forming ground cover that can be walked upon, releasing its creme de menthe fragrance. Often used to flavor liqueurs, along with peppermint. Tiny, moss-like leaves are bright green, and they appreciate some shade.
Other varieties include scents such as apple, chocolate (my favorite!), orange, pineapple, grapefruit and even banana! For information on more varieties available try Richter's Herbs, Mountain Valley Growers, The Tasteful Garden. If you prefer to grow from seed: The Herb Cottage.

CULINARY USES:
Spearmint, peppermint and applemint sprigs can be added to drinks and fruit dishes as a garnish. It also makes a refreshing tea.
Serve this mint sauce with roasted lamb for a delightful summer meal.

Mint Sauce:
Fresh mint - 4 Tbsp., finely chopped
Boiling water - 3 Tbsp.
sugar - 1 Tbsp.
salt - ¼ tsp
Vinegar - 3 Tbsp.
Stir the mint into the boiling water. Add the sugar and salt.
Leave until cold. Add the vinegar and mix well.

MEDICINAL AND COSMETIC USES:
The menthol in peppermint soothes the lining of the digestive tract and stimulates the production of bile, which is an essential digestive fluid. A hot cup of herbal tea is an excellent way to settle your stomach after a big meal. A handful of mint steeped in boiling water for ten minutes is all you need for a comforting mint tea.

To make a facial astringent combine 1 Tbsp. cleane fresh peppermint or spearmint and 1 cup witch hazel in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Steep in a cool, dry place for one week, shaking occasionally. Strain and pour into a bottle or spritzer to use. Probably best to keep in the fridge if you are not adding preservative and it's a great way to chill out in hot weather. Good for normal to oily skin. Makes about a six-week supply.

Moth Repellent -Tie branches of mint together and wrap lightly in cheesecloth (to avoid flaking). Hang the bundle upside down with a ribbon in your closet.

Make a foot scrub by combining 1 cup unflavored yogurt, 1 cup kosher or rock salt or white sugar and 3/4 cup fresh mint leaves. Apply to feet. Use a damp washcloth to gently scrub rough spots. Rinse feet and apply lotion.

CRAFTS:
Refreshing Potpourri:
Combine 1/2 cup orris root and 1 Tbsp. of essential oil lavender or peppermint. Add 2 cups each dried orange mint, dried spearmint, dried peppermint, plus 1 cup each dried thyme and rosemary. Combine gently; try not to crush leaves. Store in a covered jar. To use, shake the jar gently, then open.

May 24, 2009

Holy Basil!

Basil is one of the most important and versatile herbs grown. Not only is this annual herb used in many styles of ethnic cooking, but it comes in many flavors, as well. Sweet Basil is probably the most common types and it is easy grow.

Cultivation
In colder zones, start basil indoors in mid-spring. The seeds can be sown directly into the garden in warmer areas. Seedlings should not be set outdoors until all danger of frost has past and the plant has four true leaves. Basil transplants easily. Plants can also be started from cuttings or rooted suckers.

When plants are established, pinch out the top. This encourages a bushier plant. Continuous picking will prolong the life of the plant. Basil also does well in containers, but make sure you water when needed and let the soil drain between watering. Too much and you will drown the plant. Keep the purple type basil in full sun to retain their vibrant colors. Be sure to pinch out the flowers until you are ready to harvest the leaves as it will have the strongest and best flavor at the time they are about to flower. To hold back flowering as long as possible, simply snip off all developing flower buds as soon as you see them. In basil they are easy to recognize by their stacked, nearly leafless structure.

If you let the plant go to seed in the garden you will have baby basil popping up everywhere in the next growing season. In warmer climates they will sprout almost immediately. You can either grow them where they rooted and thin them or let them get to the "two leaf" stage and prick them out into either containers or other spots in the garden. You can never have enough basil!

Companion Planting
It is said that basil improves the flavor of tomatoes. They also go hand in hand in the kitchen. Basil aids in repelling mosquitoes and flies, which is always, to borrow a phrase, a 'good thing'!

Culinary Use
Basil has a strong clove-like flavor and fragrance. The flowers and leaves are best used fresh and added only during the last few minutes of cooking. Basil works well in combination with tomatoes. Finely chopped basil stirred into mayonnaise makes a good sauce for fish. Use as a garnish for vegetables, chicken and egg dishes. Large lettuce-leaf basil can be stuffed as you would a grape leaf. Basil can be dried in the microwave until crisp but still green. Much of the flavor is lost this way, in my opinion, but can still add it's distinct taste to pizza toppings and garnish many dishes.

Additional Information
Check out these links for additional information on growing, buying and using basil.
Buon Appetito!

May 20, 2009

Rosemary - The Herb of Remembrance

"There's Rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember..." William Shakespeare - Hamlet. Rosemary is quite a memorable herb. Rosemary was named the Herb of the Year in 2001 by the International Herb Association. It was one of the herbs introduced to Britain by the Romans and this piny-scented plant is still particularly loved today by the Italians and the British, who use it frequently in their cooking. In ancient Greece and Rome rosemary was believed to strengthen the memory, which accounts for its being known as the herb of remembrance and fidelity.

A sprig of rosemary was often placed in a bride's bouquet or worn at funerals, and those taking examinations would twine rosemary into their hair or massage rosemary oil into the forehead and temples. This may well have worked, for rosemary stimulates the circulation, increasing the blood supply to the brain. Rosemary was also said to ward off infection and apart from the traditions associated with it and its many culinary, medicinal and cosmetic uses, rosemary makes an attractive addition to the herb garden.

The plant is native to the Mediterranean but although it prefers coastal conditions, it has been known to thrive as far inland as as the Sahara Desert. A perennial shrub, rosemary has spiky, evergreen leaves which are dark and glossy on the upper side and gray-green and downy underneath. The small, blue nettle-shaped flowers appear in May to June and are a great attraction to bees and butterflies. The shrub will grow to 4-5 ft and a few bushes planted together will make a compact, fragrant hedge.

CULTIVATION:
More at home in the Mediterranean than colder climates, rosemary requires a sheltered spot in which to grow - a south or west-facing wall is ideal - and light, limey but above all well-drained soil. Seeds are difficult to germinate as well as very slow to grow and the best way to propagate rosemary is either by cuttings or from layering. A new plant can easily be produced from an old by firmly pegging down a small branch into the soil with a piece of wire or twig until the roots are established and then removing it carefully from the parent plant.

Keep the young plant moist but not too wet as the roots easily rot. The new plants should be transplanted in the early autumn to allow them to harden off before the winter, and they may need to be protected with straw where winter conditions are severe. Once established, rosemary bushes do not like to be moved. If this is attempted, the leaves will often turn brown and die, so if it is necessary to transplant try to avoid cutting any roots when doing so and retain as much of the original ball of earth as possible. If happy in its position, rosemary can last for about 30 years. Trim it lightly to maintain its thickness.

PRECAUTIONS:
Do not use any part of a plant for food or cosmetic uses without thoroughly washing it first to remove all soil or contaminants. It's prudent not use any plant that was sprayed with pesticides as many skin rashes, irritations or allergies can result, and I would highly recommend growing your own herbs without chemical additives; many plants will thrive on a sunny windowsill, porch or deck if you have no place for an outdoor garden.

USES:
Rosemary has long been known for its therapeutic powers. Try placing a sprig under the pillow of a sleeper who suffers from nightmares - it often produces a miracle cure. Both rosemary oil and rosemary tea have many uses and the herb makes an excellent skin tonic and astringent as well as a hair conditioner, not to mention a delicious flavoring in food.

ROSEMARY TEA
This can be used as an aid to digestion and taken at bedtime as a soothing drink to calm the nerves and induce sleep. Use about 15 ml ( 1 tablespoon ) of crushed rosemary leaves - fresh are better than dried - per cup of boiling water.

HAIR CONDITIONER
This recipe has an excellent conditioning effect on the hair, helping to control dandruff and even, it is alleged, curing baldness. Take a bunch of fresh rosemary and crush or chop the leaves; add 300 ml ( 1/2 pint ) boiling water and allow to stand for an hour, then drain. Use it as a final rinse after washing and towel - drying the hair.

May 14, 2009

Summer Scents

Summertime, and the livin' is easy... well if it isn't it should be! Whether you're lounging around the pool, hitting the beach or backyard cook-out you will be dressing cool and feeling fresh. I like to lighten up my fragrance choices in the warm weather. The breezy scents of crisp linens, powdery florals and refreshing fruits help me keep my cool when it's hot. Here's a few to try:

Mirabilis: AKA Four O'Clock has sparkling top notes of fresh lemon and Damask plum. An enchanting heart of white iris, lily of the valley and spicy carnation with a sensual base of ground nutmeg, soft sandalwood, sheer musk and oakmoss.

Eternal Spring: Sheer layers heirloom roses, lavender, gardenia and wood violets. A true floral that is completely feminine and absolutely romantic.

Strawberry Frappé: Juicy ripe summer berries mingled with melon, citrus and green apple.

Grapefruit Passion: Refreshing blood orange and ruby red grapefruit oils grounded with dark patchouli. A sparkling citrus scent with hints of intrigue.

April 11, 2009

It's the Little Things

Lately things have been a bit crazy around here. Lots of work, little time and too many personal traumas all at once. I'm trying to cope, be productive and focus on the things I need to do. I won't go into too much personal detail but suffice it to say I'm a bit overwhelmed. There have been other such times, better or worse, as I'm experiencing now. I devised a strategy long ago to deal with the stress and it works more or less no matter what is going on. I'm not saying that you won't feel the pain of the problems, but should you follow this technique they will be much easier to deal with.

The first thing you must understand is there are some things you cannot change no matter how hard you try. If you say the Serenity prayer it fits in here nicely. This is the hardest thing for me partly because I'm a mom, and we fix things, right? Well we can't fix everything try as we might. Prioritizing the things you can deal with helps immensely. Focus on doing what you can to help the situation, devise a proposed plan for what you can do in the future and then you have to let the rest go. Not so easy, trust me I know, but it will help you keep your head above water no matter what the situation.

Here's a peek into recent events in my life. My dog has recently been diagnosed with incurable cancer. To say that we're devastated would be an understatement. She's been a constant source of joy and comfort to us for 8 years and I'm shattered to think of losing her. Okay, step one is knowing I can't change the outcome in the end. I've dealt with that temporarily and now, step two, I'm focusing on keeping her as healthy, happy and pain free as I can until it comes time to let her go. That could be in a few days or a few months depending on how fast the disease progresses.

Step three, letting the rest go is very difficult for me. It took my daughter telling me that it was depressing everyone else even more when I cried every time Madi did something cute that I knew I would only see maybe a few more times. Her exact words were, "Mom! Stop being such a buzz kill!" That kind of shocked me out of my daze. Now I stop myself from thinking about the end of all of this because until that time there's nothing else I can do but what I'm doing. I'm enjoying her company and spending more time with her, taking pictures and giving her treats. Making a few more memories to hold on to when she's gone.

Life's not fair sometimes, but all in all I believe it's the little things that count. The every day things that often get little notice. The smell of clean laundry, the warmth of a hug and the waggy tail and love from a cherished pet.

March 31, 2009

Happily Handmade

Do you Indie? I do. What's an Indie? Glad you asked! I quote the from the Happily Handmade Giveaway website: "Indie is more than a word, it’s a state of mind. It’s about supporting small businesses and independent artisans. It’s about cherishing the quality of something handmade, not mass produced. To be indie means to ascend to a new level of creativity, originality, and forward-thinking, challenging the notion that quality is synonymous with size. To support indie is to make the conscious decision to purchase from an independent crafter and not a big box retailer."

Want to get in on some of this indie goodness? It's easy! Just enter the Happily Handmade Giveaway starting Wednesday, April 1st by visiting Bidwell Botanicals or any of the Indie Shop Sponsors. Look for the Happily Handmade Entry Site badge and follow the instructions to enter. You may enter once through each of the Indie Shop Sponsors’ sites. Visit them all to increase your chances of winning! Be sure to follow the steps listed on each sponsor website for specific entry requirements, as each site is different.

The giveaway entry period runs from April 1st through May 13th. No entries will be accepted before or after these dates. Winners will be notified on May 18th, and an official list of winners will be posted on the Happily Handmade website as soon as they have been confirmed. To get the scoop on the rules and preview the indie goodies being given away visit the Happily Handmade website. Good luck!

March 19, 2009

Lovely Lavender

To celebrate our spring-like weather I offer you a short course on herbs. We'll start with my favorite (hey I'm the author!) Lavender. This pretty purple flower is well known for its unique fragrance. The Greeks and Romans favored it in their bath water. Its name is derived from the Latin lavare, "to wash" so that makes sense. Lavender was used extensively in Europe during the 17th Century to mask household smells and stinking streets. Stories that the glovers of Grasse, who used lavender oil to scent their fashionable leather, were remarkably free from plague, encouraged other people to carry lavender. Ladies of refinement carried lavender sprigs tucked into their tussy mussy. A beautiful addition to any bouquet, it was also a very good way to daintily avoid unpleasant odors.

Lavender has long been used medicinally, the oil of the flower being the most popular. The flower is also infused as a tea to soothe headaches, calm nerves, ease flatulence, fainting, dizziness and halitosis. It is said that if you add 6 drops to an irritable child's bathwater it will help calm them. Now that's a bonus! Lavender was used during the World Wars as an antiseptic and is to this day, a dominating choice in the fragrance industry.

Essential oil of lavender is one of the safest and most widely used oils in aromatherapy for its calming and antifungal properties. We use lavender oil in many of our bath and body products not only for it's heavenly scent but also for its ability to relax and soothe. While it is relatively safe, remember the oil is essentially a plant derived concentrated medicinal and as such should be used with care and never at full strength on the skin or taken internally. If you have plant allergies you should be wary of products containing essential oils as they could cause a reaction. It's always best to test first than be sorry later.

Lavender in many forms is readily available at plant nurseries and home improvement centers. Do yourself a favor and buy a pot as it's hard to grow from seed and will flower faster. Put it on your deck or plant it in the garden in a sunny spot by favorite chair so you can enjoy the fragrant flowers all summer long.

March 10, 2009

Spring Cleaning

The past few days have been insanely beautiful here in the south. It feels like spring has arrived and many of our trees are bursting with bloom - oh and pollen. Yes, that lovely yellow demon powder that coats anything that holds still long enough including our outside kitty. So while we're tempted to just throw open the windows, having to clean all that yellow powder off everything and dealing with the allergic reactions it causes in my son is not, to borrow a phrase, a good thing.

Spring is also the time to think about refreshing your home. Here's a tip to bring out the shine in your bathroom and kitchen. Need to scrub and don't want to use the harsh stuff? No problem. Just whip out the multitasking baking soda and add a touch of lemon juice for grease cutting and whitening power. Using a damp sponge scrub away the soap scum and grime. This is less abrasive than your average cleansing powder, is non-toxic and it will leave the tub and sink sparkling clean and smelling fresh. Pouring a bit of the baking soda down the drain will to help freshen there as well.

As for the yellow demon dust: swish, rinse, repeat... swish, rinse, repeat... you get the idea.

February 24, 2009

Lent = Diet Time

I've always tried to use the Lenten season to jump on my diet plan. It seems like a good time to do it with all that Catholic guilt I harbor from my childhood. I tell myself that I'll give up this, that and the other thing and pump up my exercise routine so that when we open the pool shortly after Easter I won't cry when I put on my bathing suit for the first time. Does this work? I really don't know because I've never actually done it, but it is a good plan in theory!

Six weeks of extra exercise and less chocolate seems like it would be easy enough, but I stink at deprivation, especially when it comes to food. I can actually gain weight when I go on a diet. I think my body goes on famine alert and holds on to every fat cell and calorie it can get its greedy little mitts on. Oh, and my mind plays tricks on me. It's so not fair! It tells me that I give up so much already for my kids, husband, business, etcetera that I shouldn't have to give up the little bit of chocolate I indulge in (or the sushi, tea biscuits or bread). When it comes to exercise I do have some legitimate excuses but if I really wanted to I'm pretty sure I could walk briskly around the block several times a day. Then that little demon in my brain kicks in. "It's cold! It's raining! My feet hurt! I have too much work to do!" You get the idea.

So this year I'm really going to do it! No really... I am. I will start small. Minuscule. One day at a time. So no chocolate tomorrow (I'm already crying about this). Then one less teaspoon of sugar in my coffee. Once around the block when it's not raining. Maybe I'll get a Wii Fitness. Yeah, that's it! I'll join a gym. I could do that! See what I'm saying? I set myself up for failure if I reach too high and for me that means sticking to the once around the block for a few days and shelving the gym thing. After all I need to save my money for that new swimsuit. No really...

February 17, 2009

Beauty Tip of the Day: Pucker Up!

For a perfect kiss soft lips are a must. Get yours there by gently (and I do mean gently) exfoliating your pucker. You can do this daily by using your soft bristle toothbrush after you brush your teeth. Lightly go over your lips, focusing on the outer, dryer edges to help remove flaky skin. Another way is to use a bit of your sugar scrub while in the shower and your lips are wet being careful to use a light touch. Don't forget to use an emollient lip product to help retain natural moisture and protect from the ravaging effects of wind, sun and pollution. XOXO!

February 11, 2009

Beauty Tip of the Day: Have A Nice Hair Day

Here's a quicky: Is your hair giving you static? Those wispy tendrils on an otherwise smooth do can be calmed with just a dab of your regular hair conditioner. Rub a few drops of the conditioner between your palms and lightly pat down the fly away hairs. This will help control the static throughout the day without weighing down your coif.

February 9, 2009

Beauty Tip of the Day: Flake Off!

I am starting to sound like a broken record, but exfoliation is the name of the game, people. As we grow older our epidermis does not shed its dull layer of dead cells as quickly as is used to. Even you youngsters need to help nature along to avoid flaky skin, especially if you indulge in tanning of any kind. There are any number of ways to accomplish this task.

You can take the easy route and use a pre-made product like Bidwell Botanicals Shea Butter Sugar Scrubs, or Cactus & Ivy's Fresh Breeze Loofah Scrub to effectively buff your skin, moisturize and rinse clean in one easy step.

If you prefer the homemade route you can use any kind of small grain sugar ie: brown, raw, white or turbinado. Many people prefer the texture of a salt glow. Be careful not to do so if you've just shaved the parts you're scrubbing. Think beach water and newly shaved legs, ouch! If you only have a large grained product at home you can refine it in your coffee grinder. For that matter you can use ground coffee.

To make your own scrub you will need:
  • Vegetable oil such as sweet almond oil, extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil. All of these are readily available on your grocery store shelf. Try Wholefoods for their huge selection of veggie oils, many of them organic.
  • Scrubby of your choice such as white cane sugar, brown sugar, turbinado sugar or fine grain sea salt.
  • A bowl or cup and mixing utensil.
  • Source of water - preferably a tub or shower.
  • Cleanser
  • Moisturizer
Start by mixing your choice of exfoliant one to one with the oil and set to the side. A 1/4 cup of each should do for total body treatment. Moisten the area you are going to treat with warm water. Sit at the side of your tub or stand in your shower with the water off. Stir the mixture as it will separate and scoop out about a tablespoon. Start at the top of the area you are going to treat and work your way down. Gently scrub in a circular motion to help increase blood flow. Focus on dry areas such as elbows, knees and feet. I do not suggest using this treatment on your face as the skin is very fragile. When you're done shower off the residue using a gentle cleanser. This treatment can make your shower floor slippery so be careful. Step out, dry off and apply your favorite moisturizer.

Voilà! Baby soft skin. If you're planning a trip to the spray tan booth make sure you do this a day in advance so there is no oil residue on your skin (ask your technician just to make sure). If you use one of Bidwell Botanicals scrubs or similar products you can use them the same day as they leave no oil residue on the skin. This treatment can be done as needed, usually twice weekly will suffice depending on your skin type and will help keep the flakes and itchy skin away all year long.

February 7, 2009

Beauty Tip of the Day: Step Right Up!

We've discussed this before but it bears repeating. One of the most neglected parts of our body are our feet. They get the least amount of love and literally carry us through our day. We stuff them inside wool socks and leather boots during winter and walk barefoot on hot sand during summer. They are forced to tolerate everything from stiletto heels on city sidewalks to hiking boots on the trail. Isn't it time you paid them back for all of their hard work?

Here's an easy three step pedicure you can do at home.
  1. Take a warm bath with a moisturizing additive like Bidwell Botanicals Shea Butter Shower Crème & Bubble Bath. What? Why take a bath? Why not? Your feet will be soaking in the tub the whole time so indulge me.
  2. When you're finished bathing dry off all but your feet and wrap up in a warm robe. While sitting at the edge of the tub use a combination of 1 part honey and 2 parts salt or sugar to scrub your still damp feet. Rinse well and drain the tub. Pat dry the moisture from your feet.
  3. Moisturize! I can't stress this enough especially in these cold, dry winter months. You can use anything from Vaseline to your favorite body lotion, the more emollient the better. The idea is to retain as much of the moisture in your skin as possible and doing so after this treatment is about ten times more effective than at any other time. Slip on a pair of cotton socks and go to bed.
There you go! You've killed two birds with one stone with the bath and your feet will thank you in the morning. That's a win/win situation if you ask me.