Speedboats, soap making and stonemasonry!

I thought it would be fun to share a day of my holiday with you all, I am on a cruise that goes from Venice, around the coast to Croatia, Albania then onto Greece.

Yesterday I visited the island of Brac, pronounced Bratch, in Croatia. This is my first visit to this part of the world and it is quite stunningly beautiful and the people have been so friendly. The tour I chose for the day was much better suited to my crafty interests than the trip Richard chose – visiting Split. This part of Croatia is where they filmed the Game of Thrones and being a super fan, he was so excited to see it all and indeed came back to the boat with loads of pictures and tales to share.

Such stunning stone work… including an outfit! The sculptress who made the the two-piece outfit is Ida Jaksic while the statues were made by her son www.galerijajaksic.com

But back to my trip, first we went on a fabulous speed boat from Split over to the island of Brac… oh I do like fancy boats! Travelling at 30 knots is very exciting. Climbing onto the speedboat helped by two young, topless Mediterranean guys was a nice bonus too!

We travelled first to the home and studios of a family of stonemasons and artists. How wonderful that mother, father, son and daughter can all be so talented and live together too. This limestone outfit (see picture) was just amazing, shown at New York fashion week some years ago, they were also selling some gorgeous carved stone blocks for candles, but I thought it might be asking too much from my luggage allowance!

Onwards then to the highlight of the tour for me. Another family business. The father, Joseph, lost his job but had a family of four children to bring up and get through college, expensive in any country. So he and his wife experimented with traditional family soap recipes and now make over 550 bars of soap every day… wow! The key to the soap is that it is clear and uses only local herbs, oils etc and Joseph himself was oh so interesting. They still operate out of a little room with these pots, barely bigger than you would use in the kitchen. I have so much respect for a family that pulls together like this and the children have now graduated with really impressive degrees.

Quite amazing how they make so much soap in a tiny kitchen!

My fabulous gold soap on the left … and a few of my other soapy purchases! Brac Fini Sapuni www.bracfinisapuni.com

Did I buy anything? Come on, do you need to ask?! They have started manufacturing clear soap with 27 carat gold in it, which is apparently really good for anti-ageing… who cares, it smells gorgeous and is a fab souvenir! It sells for massive amounts all over the world but I managed to buy a bar for 6 euros rather than the 100 it sells for in Scandinavia ! I also got mint, basil, tangerine… oh ok, I bought a lot of soap but hey, it’s my holiday!

A fantastic local meal at Restaurant Ziza completed the day, with red wine, local seafood, fresh figs picked from the tree we sat under and local goat, sheep and ricotta cheeses. I think it was a truly fabulous day. I will try and write more later in the week…

The photo at the top of the page is our delicious lunch at Restaurant Ziza. You cannot beat fresh local produce!

 

15 Comments

The wonders of seaweed!

Julia with her lovely terrier appropriately named Seaweed!I first met Julia Horton-Powdrill on a writing course, some six years ago. I was there with my partner in crime writing Julia Wherrell (you don’t meet a Julia for years and then two come along at once!) and we have stayed in touch ever since. Julia H-P lives in St David’s in Pembrokeshire where she runs foraging courses, writes novels and runs the ‘Really Wild Food Festival’ – one busy lady! Julia W went to visit earlier this month as she was collecting her new puppy from the area (and that’s another blog coming soon!), so she thought she’d ask Julia H-P about foraging and one of her major passions – seaweed!

While I enjoy growing my own veg and picking the odd mushroom and wild berry, I really am not very knowledgeable about wild plants and food for free, so I was interested to hear how Julia H-P first got into foraging.

“I was pretty much born to it!” she says. “My father studied botany and zoology at Cambridge, and then became a GP in a rural practice in south east Wales. In those days, GPs still ‘did the rounds’ and had time to pause and appreciate their surroundings so my father would often come home with foraged plants and mushrooms for our tea. I remember him bringing home elvers fresh out of the local river once, but mother thought they were revolting, so that was not one of his better efforts!

“He was also very keen on seaweed, as am I, but it wasn’t until after he died that I made a rather significant discovery. I was going through his belongings when I came across a wonderful collection of seaweeds that he’d gathered from around Anglesey back in the 1930s. It is quite probable that some of these seaweeds no longer grow in the area, so I plan to donate them to the National Museum of Wales. They already have his beetle collection anyway!”

So what is it that’s so marvellous about seaweed, I wondered? Julia’s lovely country-style kitchen is draped with the stuff – all different shapes and sizes and colours, she breaks off bits and chews them as she talks and describes how she uses them in soups and stews. Her pantry is neatly stocked with jars of it too, and there are packs stored in the freezer.

“I use it a lot adding bits here and there to dishes as different seaweeds have different flavours and textures and, of course, being Welsh, I make lava bread! It takes some time to identify different seaweeds and to know how to clean and dry and store them, but if you are interested, you can buy books on it, or look it up – it’s all there online these days. And one of the great things about seaweed is you can just stop and try a bit – have a nibble on the beach if you want to – it is never going to harm you, none of it is poisonous.”

As well as appearing on the BBCs Countryfile earlier this month, Julia has been on other TV shows and, perhaps most memorably, been filmed sitting in a seaweed bath with The One Show presented Alex Jones! “Seaweed is terribly good for your skin,” Julia explains. “It is full of all sorts of vitamins and minerals, so run a good hot bath, stick in the seaweed and hey presto – a wonderful natural beauty treatment!” 

Multi-skilling seaweed!
We come across products containing seaweed quite often but are usually completely unaware of it. You will find it in some brands of cosmetics, ice cream, toothpaste and various food stuffs. It is also in bath preparations and is widely used as a fertilizer.

You can follow Julia’s foraging exploits here.

Her wild food festival here. 

Her new novel here. 

 

 

1 Comment

Gold, frankincense and myrrh – how wise were the wise men…?

From the top: The three wise men, or Magi. Gold, frankincense and myrrh as we usually portray them in nativity plays. A frankincense tree, and myrrh resin.As a child, I was always fascinated by the three wise men and their gifts. I could see the logic in gold, but what on earth were frankincense and myrrh, and wouldn’t it have been a lot more sensible if they had brought blankets, soap and a nice pot of stew instead? Well, after looking into saffron for a recent blog, I decided to find out the facts about these two strange sounding gifts…

People in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula have produced frankincense and myrrh for over 5,000 years. For much of this time, these aromatic resins were the region’s most important commodity, with a trade network that reached across Africa, Asia and Europe.

Derived from tree sap, or gum resin, both frankincense and myrrh were highly prized for personal, religious and medicinal use. In a time before people washed every day, they would use the sweet smoke from the resins to make themselves smell better. Egyptian women used the ash of frankincense to make their eyeliner – think of all those amazing mummies with their dramatically black–lined eyes! 

Frankincense and myrrh also had medicinal uses and both resins were recommended for the treatment of wounds. Other ailments they were reputed to cure included hemlock poisoning, leprosy, worms, snakebites, diarrhoea, plague, scurvy and even baldness!

The high demand for frankincense and myrrh created a booming trade in the Middle East lasting several hundred years. In the first century, around the height of the trade, it is recorded that Arabia produced approximately 1,680 tons of frankincense and around 448 tons of myrrh each year.

So frankincense and myrrh were widely available when the three wise men visited the baby Jesus and would have been considered practical gifts with many uses. The expensive resins were symbolic as well. Frankincense, which was often burned, symbolized prayer rising to the heavens like smoke, while myrrh, which was often used for burials, symbolized death.

Frankincense and myrrh may not be as popular as they once were, but they’re still used today in products and in ways that might surprise you. They’re common ingredients in modern perfumes and cosmetics, continuing a tradition that has lasted thousands of years. Scientists are finding new uses for the substances as well and recent studies suggest that frankincense may be beneficial to sufferers of asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, osteoarthritis and collagenous colitis. Researchers have also discovered possible benefits of myrrh in the treatment of gastric ulcers, tumours and parasites.

So, three very wise men indeed…

1 Comment

Dramatic Couture!

How about a really over the top card for a fashion loving friend or family member? These images come from the CD featuring Janet Kruskamp – the collection. Janet has the most amazingly diverse range of things she paints and sketches and these are something wonderfully different.

This is a particularly large card measuring about 11.5” x 8” – but obviously you could take this idea and create something much smaller if you didn’t want to be quite so dramatic!

The corners can be achieved several ways – you could use something as easy as a punch, a die – even good old peeloffs. So mat your backing paper onto some black card. Add the corners and then mount all of that onto an antique gold card blank. This size of card blank would be something you would do yourself and is easiest with A3 card.

Then arrange the toppers with different couture designs, decoupage the outfits to add height to the card and then add a wonderfully grand ribbon bow. The hat pins are then tucked into the bow and glued in place with glue gel.

Have fun!

0 Comments

A personal ‘spring clean’

After all the dreadful rain we’ve recently had some days of gorgeous winter sunshine and, although I know I am a bit early, I am already looking forward to spring! As well as spring cleaning the house and tackling the jobs in the garden, I have also been thinking about little old me – how can I give myself a bit of a ‘pep up’ and a spring clean?

As you will know, I’ve always been keen on natural health and beauty remedies, so I’ve had a look through my files and come up with some easy and effective natural beauty ideas for you.

Leftover Rice Mask
Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous, but stay with me… This mask feeds the skin and leaves it really soft and satiny.

  • 2 tablespoons of cooked rice
  • 15ml (I tablespoon) sunflower oil
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 5ml (1 teaspoon) runny honey
  • 4ml (1 scant teaspoon) lemon juice

Mix all the ingredients together and apply to your face – this looks pretty fearsome, so you might want to pre-warn your loved ones! Leave on for 15 minutes while you relax, a quick snooze, a bath or perhaps read a chapter or two of my novel! Wash off well with warm water.

Citrus Neck Oil
It is impossible to ignore your face as you are constantly confronted by it in the mirror, but what about your neck? It’s probably been hidden with scarves and high collars all winter and, as we ladies know, it is often the part of you that ages fastest, so give your neck some TLC.

  • 5ml (1 teaspoon) avocado oil
  • 5ml (1 teaspoon) grapeseed oil
  • 6 drops geranium essential oil
  • 3 drops lemon essential oil
  • 3 drops orange essential oil
  • 2 drops clary sage essential oil

Mix the ingredients well and massage a small amount into your neck at night. If you feel you’ve overdone it, just blot off the excess with tissue.

0 Comments