Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Corpse Flower

I recently came across an article on ‘The Corpse Flower’ in a Watchtower magazine which some Jehovah Witnesses left for me when they came by one Saturday.

Corpse Flower, or Rafflesia arnoldii, is the world’s largest flower. It can grow to about three feet (1 metre) in diameter—the size of a bus tire—and weigh some 24 pounds (11 kg).
The petals of Rafflesia arnoldii converge in a large hollow that resembles a pot and can hold up to six litres of water.
It was officially named after Joseph Arnold, a British botanist, and his expedition partner, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who was founder and governor of Singapore. Arnold came across the flower in 1818 during a plant-collecting expedition on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where today it is one of three national flowers.

And it gets its more common names of corpse flower, meat flower, devil flower or stinking corpse lily, because of its intense, foul odour. One person described the smell of corpse flower as: “Buffalo carcass in an advanced state of decomposition.” Carrion-feeding flies are the flower’s main pollinators because they find the stench irresistible.
Its impressive size, form, and colour - and its unforgettable stench – make coming across a corpse flower a unique experience. It’s an amazing flower and not easy to locate, but probably not one you would want to have as a household plant anytime soon!

The Corpse Flower is currently rare and endangered. Most of its buds never reach maturity or bloom. Many are harvested to be used in traditional medicine or to be eaten as a delicacy. And ongoing destruction of the flower’s tropical rain-forest habitat poses another serious threat.
Source: Watchtower Magazine.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sorrel, sugar cane & Saturday edibles

Yesterday was a busy day spent running errands with family. One of our first stops was at my grandmother’s house, where we got some sugar cane to use for a school project.

Here’s the sugar cane being cut from my gran’s backyard;
Sugar cane plants can grow very tall...
Sugar cane has toughly jointed stalks. Here’s my uncle cutting them the traditional way with a cutlass and board...
Some of the stalks, cut and ready to go:
A little later we went into town to run some more errands. At Cheapside market I bought some fresh sorrel (roselle). I’ll be posting some more sorrel recipes in the future - both for eating and skin care.
On our way out of Bridgetown we stopped to get some lunch at Ryanne’s eatery in Broad Street. We had:
Pudding & Souse*
*Steamed pudding made from sweet potato, cucumber pickled with lime juice, onions, hot peppers, parsley and pickled pork – including the ears, snout and trotters (you specify the pieces you want) with breadfruit on the side to balance the tang of all that yummy pickle. Pudding and souse is the local delicacy on Saturdays.

As well as fried fish cakes....
As we were eating away, a friend called to tell us it was her birthday and she had made some fish cakes and bakes and invited us to come over and get some more. Lol, how could we possibly refuse?
She gave us a whole mini bucket-full! The bakes are in there at the bottom so you can’t see them. Nothing beats homemade fish cakes and bakes, especially on a Saturday.
It ended up being a very traditional local day with sorrel, fish cakes, bakes, pudding & souse and sugar cane.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Chocolate and cupcakes at Canary Wharf

I visited the Hotel Chocolat store at Canary Wharf while in London last month.
Besides the usual chocolate edibles, they also have a chocolate bath and body range called Cocoa Juvenate.
The range consists of body oils, lotions, hand creams, liquid soaps, etc. and they use cocoa from St. Lucia along with fruit oils, honey and plant butters.
They also offer port wines.... be paired with their award-winning chocolates.
The fruit-flavoured range of chocolates include a 'Raspberry Smoothie' - light, refreshing raspberry combined with creamy white chocolate. And also silky soft lemon truffles.
They also had gift-boxed 'petit desserts' in creme brulee and other flavours. I bought their caramel chocolate with sour cream cheesecake filling, as well as a milk chocolate-coated praline but ate them both before I could take a photo (lol!).

Next it was on to the Sweet Couture Boutique Bakery for fresh, hand-baked cupcakes.
Theirs was definitely some of the freshest I have ever tasted.
So many choices, so little time...
The cupcakes are made from English-inspired recipes, seasonal ingredients, free-range eggs, and no preservatives.
In the end I opted for a traditional chocolate cupcake - dark chocolate topped with a smooth and rich chocolate buttercream and edible sugar decoration. Definitely fresh, moist and not too sweet, one of the nicest cupcakes I have tasted.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A softer side of lemongrass

(Lemongrass Droplets copyright Nick Fletcher on Flickr).

The sharp, citrusy-aroma of lemongrass is easy to recognize and loved by many of us. I find it energizing and uplifiting and could smell it all day. But many also find it sensitizing and irritating to the skin and mucous membranes. These people can only tolerate it in small doses, or sadly not at all.

Citral is the main chemical component of lemongrass. Lemongrass contains up to 85% citral. Citral is what gives lemongrass its fresh, lemon-y citrus aroma. Citral can also be found in many other essential oils including rose, ginger, lemon verbena and may chang.

Knowing that some of us cannot tolerate this beautiful oil inspired me to start working on a new perfume formula last year. I am trying to create a lemongrass perfume that is an elegant interpretation of the actual essential oil, one that is less sharp, softer, and sweeter – perhaps with fruity-green notes and a hint of gourmand honey or spice. A lemongrass that everyone can love; especially those who are allergic or sensitive to the pure essential oil. It won't be a 'true' lemongrass perfume, but more of a fantasy interpretation.

I’ve been playing with different combinations of essential oils and aroma chemicals to create this re-interpretation. I tried for example using lemon and may chang (a small tree native to East Asia with fragrant leaves that smell similar to lemongrass), along with a touch of hexyl acetate. Hexyl acetate is a strong molecule with a distinct green, pear-like aroma. Also some clove absolute, rose and other notes to form the heart of the perfume. Last year I gave this blend to a friend to smell who promptly handed it back to me and informed me that it smelt like ginger! Lol, that was definitely not the effect I was going for. So I shelved that formula, but was so glad for the feedback. And at least now I have an idea of how to go about creating a ginger accord(1.) if I ever need one.

What also inspired me to create a lemongrass perfume was that although lemongrass is grown in many kitchen gardens in the Caribbean, and is well-known and respected for its medicinal qualities, it is not widely appreciated for its aesthetic value. It tends to look like your average green grass that you see growing all around, and because it grows very tall and out of control quickly if left unattended, it sometimes gets treated like an unpopular garden weed.

So I thought it would be nice to challenge and play with this traditional perception and present the ordinary lemongrass plant as something more elegant and unexpected, and I will keep working on my formulas until I get it just right. Above is an image of an elegant lady holding some lemongrass stalks which I hope to incorporate into the packaging once the perfume is completely finished. (This image is also available exclusively on my website as a fine art print.)

(1.) An accord is a balanced and harmonious combination of two or more different aroma materials that when combined create a completely new and distinct aroma.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Penhaligon's on the West End

Just a couple snapshots I took last month while visiting Penhaligon's perfume shop on Regent Street.

Their Tea Candle Collection consists of Assam, Neroli and Earl Grey....