Health and Beauty, Uncategorized

Easy gentle almond milk soap

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I have been wanting to try a milky soap for ages, and this recipe sounded just perfect. I used almond milk, almond oil and shea butter to make an extra rich, extra gentle soap for sensitive skins. I added a few drops of essential oil but the scent is barely noticeable, and it’s of course optional for children or very sensitive skins. It is a very simple recipe and didn’t take me more than 45 mins to make. I used a little plastic mold that I bought online, so I ended up with 9 tiny little soaps that are perfect for gifts, guests’ bathrooms or wedding favours.

Here is the recipe I used, using the Sage website to calculate the amount of lye needed.

Ingredients needed (for 9 little bars):

  • 200g  Shea Butter
  • 150mL Almond oil
  • 100 mL Almond milk
  • 44 g Sodium Hydroxide

essential oils (optional)

I buy organic ingredients whenever possible and make soaps from my family and friends. I like making sure I don’t put toxic chemical stuff on my skin, or worse my children’s! Even popular soaps like Dove are packed with chemicals, detergents and perfumes that are too acidic for the skin and are bad for the environment.

Start by making the lye solution combining the sodium and the milk, wearing gloves and glasses as it can be dangerous. Always put the sodium into the liquid (milk in our case), never the over way around. I use a think glass container for this and it gets very hot. Set aside and leave to cool.

Then, combine the oil and the shea butter and heat gently in a bain-marie until the butter has completely melted. Take off from the fire and leave to cool at room temperature.

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Once both liquids have cooled, combine them and keep stirring until the mixture ‘traces’. Tracing means that it is thick enough to support marks for a few minutes. I often use a hand mixer at this stage, as it can take about 15- 20minutes to get to this stage. The mix should the same consistency as a homemade custard, thick and yellow.

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At this stage, I added about 20 drops of lavender essential oil, but it is optional. Do not use if the soap if for a young child.

Then, pour into your mold: you could use silicon molds, glass pots or a cake mold, be creative! Here is mine, it is a square mold that I bought online to make 9 little soaps.

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Leave to set for a couple of days until the soap has hardened. Then, remove from the mold and cut into the desired shapes.

Leave in a airy place to cure: this takes 4 to 6 weeks and you should use the soap before that as it will be too aggressive for the skin.

TA-DA! Wrap in a pretty piece of soap paper and there are ready to go!

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Health and Beauty, Nutrition

Probiotic water kefir – my new healthy addiction

Many people have heard of milk kefir, but not being a big fan of fermented milk, I was really excited to find out about water kefir. I’m a massive fan of probiotics and I believe they are a very important of my diet, especially in this day and age when so much of what we eat is processed, causing all sorts of digestive issues. Probiotics help to regulate the gut bacteria and to keep it balanced and healthy; there is evidence that they can help people with IBS and intestinal problems. I find them particularly helpful when my children are sick, have stomach pains or diarrhea: I usually give them some probiotic, organic yoghurt that is easy to digest and helps the gut to heal. Same thing if they have been prescribed antibiotics (which is very rare): I will make sure they get some probiotics in as antibiotics destroy the gut’s flora. Water kefir has different bacteria strains than milk kefir, so if you have both grains, you can alternate between them.

Water kefir grains
Water kefir grains

Water kefir is great because it is extremely cheap to make, can be made to suit different tastes and is a healthy replacement for soda. Grains grow and reproduce, so if you know anyone who makes kefir, they will often have a stash of extra grains to give away. I got my grains from a local person I found on facebook (there are lots of groups dedicated to kefir and kombucha), and I only paid for postage.

Once you have grains, you literally only need water and sugar to get started. I usually measure one cup of water for one tablespoon of grains; you can use bottled or filtered water, but tap water is just fine.

What you need:

-water kefir grains

-sugar

– a glass jar (mason type)

-a strainer (or use a little muslin or other light fabric to make a little bag in which to keep your grains, as I did)

– measuring equipment

– a bottle to transfer your kefir into, once it has fermented

Boil the water, pour in a large jar, and add sugar (add the same amount of sugar as you have grains). Some people use rapadura or brown sugar, but I find plain white sugar is best assimilated by the grains. The sugar actually feeds the bacteria; the end drink in not actually sweet, so don’t worry if you feel you are adding too much sugar. Do NOT use honey as it is harmful for the grains.

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Once the water has cooled, add the grains and close the lid (you can also close the jar with paper towel and elastic). Some people add a dried fig, a date or piece of lemon, which gives a nice, fruity taste to the kefir. The fruit will also float up once the kefir is ready, which helps. I prefer to not add anything at this stage, but I do during the 2nd fermentation. IMG_7564

The kefir takes 24h to 48h to ferment, depending on temperature. I usually leave it 2 days in the jar, then remove my little bag of grains and transfer into a bottle for a 2nd fermentation. At this stage, I add a quarter of lemon and I make sure the bottle is closed properly so the drink gets fizzy, and I leave another day or 2 in the fridge, before drinking. Kefir is incredibly versatile, and there are loads of recipes to suit your taste: you can add ginger, fruit juice or purée, or try making kefir in coconut water.

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I love my kefir. It has a slightly odd taste at the beginning, but you get used to is and I really feel the benefits on my health. I don’t feel bloated for example, and sleep better, so I have more energy. It is said to have all kinds of benefits for cancer sufferers, help with depression, chronic fatigue and more, but I can’t comment on that!

Health and Beauty

Alum stone – natural antiperspirant and aftershave

One of the products I was surprised to find widely available in the Moroccan souq (marketplace) is the Alum stone or chebba, know in Europe for its many benefits. It is now becoming more popular as an antiperspirant, as it is efficient, natural, plastic free and cheap. It is actually a mineral derived from aluminium, but unlike the aluminium contained in standard deodorants, which can be toxic, it doesn’t penetrate the skin.

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Alum stones from Morocco and alum stick

Many products such as aftershaves are derived from it as it is a blood coagulant and it soothes the skin. In Morocco, I found it in its natural form, as a stone, and it is also sold as a powder. I bought both as I thought I could try to use the powder to try out so new recipes. The stone used as antiperspirant lasts for ever, literally for years! It needs to be applied on wet skin, so it’s perfect after a shower in the morning, and it has absolutely no smell whatsoever. I also bought a deodorant shaped stone in a pharmacy in France, which is very useful. I personally find it works better on my skin in the summer months than during the winter for some reasons. I think it reacts differently to people’s skin and its environment, so just give it a go and see how it goes!

I have seen women applying the stone to their skin before using foundation: this is particularly useful for oily skin and is meant to unify and matify it. There is all sorts of recipe involving alum stone powder, such as scrubs. I personally had success healing a mucocele my young daughter had on the inside of her lip. We simply applied the stone on it 2-3 a day for a couple of weeks, and it disappeared, after other medicine had failed to help. Just an example of the various properties of the alum stone!

Health and Beauty

My first batch of homemade Beldi Savon noir

I spoke about Moroccan Savon noir in a previous post, and since it seemed fairly easy to make at home I decided to have a go. In the UK, it is quite hard to find Savon noir, and some brands are not completely natural, adding chemicals or using bad quality ingredients. I felt it would be easier and safer to just make my own.

I also had a bag of dried black olives from Morocco that had been sitting in my cupboard for a while, and they seemed perfect for my recipe! I also got a litre of pure olive oil from a local deli shop, and ordered some caustic potash flakes online. This is my first time making soap with potash, as I usually use sodium hydroxide. Potash is used to make liquid soaps such as Castile soap, and it is a very ancient technique: people used to make soap using ashes from their stove, and the word ‘potash’ actually comes from ‘pot-ashes’. Using this technique has obliged me to research the history of soap-making, which is really more interesting than it sounds!

Here is an interesting page if you want to learn more.

Here is my Moroccan Black soap recipe:

I found using potash less straight-forward than using sodium, and it took longer. The texture is very different and I was a bit confused by it. I took inspiration from this recipe from a French website, which states to use 1/3 of the weight of the oil for olives, so I used 100g of olive oil for 33g of black olives, and then mixed everything together into a smooth paste. That’s how it looked like:

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I then added the lye (18.6g of potash flakes to which I added 30mL of water, to get 2% excess fat). I then mixed together with a hand mixer until I reached the ‘trace’ stage, which looks like a custard. This part took ages, so I only used the mixer for a few minutes, then let it rest for a bit before starting again. I then placed my bowl on top of a pan of boiling water and let it until it turned into a paste, turning every once in a while.

Once it has cooled down, you can add water or an infusion to get to the right consistency. I added a few spoons of Orange blossom water to keep in with the Moroccan theme, and drops of Tea tree oil. This is my end result, the consistency is quite creamy: Image

After letting it rest for a week, I have started using it on my skin (avoid the face though). It is definitely good for exfoliation, and it leaves my skin soft and moisturized, but it is quite ‘muddy’ in terms of colour and texture so it feels a bit strange! I think I will try again soon inshallah, using less black olives this time. I found this other recipe which only asks for 1/5 of the weight of the oil as black olives, so that seems a good idea. I hope this recipe is clear enough, please do not hesistate to ask more questions.

Stay blessed!

Health and Beauty, Nutrition

A Chai Latte recipe to warm up during this endless winter…

I have been feeling a bit under the weather during the last few weeks, probably because it is freezing here in London and I miss the Sun! I find spices are a great remedy to get my energy levels up, and awaken my senses after a dull winter…Here is a Masala Chai recipe inspired by Indian cooking, for a deliciously spicy warm drink. I used four different spices providing a variety of health benefits:

– Ginger:  I love ginger, I drink a lot of lemon/ginger water during the cold days when I start to feel fluey, and I use it in all kinds of dishes. It really boosts the immune system and helps the body to warm up. When I was pregnant, I packed up on ginger tea and ginger biscuits to get rid of morning sickness and nausea, and it did help. It is also said stimulate digestion, to eliminate gas, and to soothe arthritis.

– Cinnamon: Another one of my favourite spices! At the moment I sprinkle a bit of cinnamon over everything: porridge in the morning, apple tart, yoghurt, even savoury dishes like meatballs and chili con carne. I just love the subtle sweetness of it. Cinnamon is also known to help digestion and boost the immune system, and it is a great way to appease my sweet tooth and avoid having too much sugar.

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– Nutmeg: A rich, hearty spice that has many healing properties, in particular helping with anxiety and insomnia, and with stomach issues: indigestion, vomiting…It is also said to improve male fertility. It should be used with moderation though. Some Chai recipes recommend to use star anise instead, which is great for flu and has a delicious oriental flavour, but I didn’t have any.

– Cardamom: I am a bit less familiar with cardamom, although I have been using more recently as I’m trying out Asian recipes. I like the depth of flavour it adds, and it is a wonderfully versatile spice: I tasted a cardamom ice cream recently that was simply divine. You can use ground cardamom for this recipe, but I prefer to use pods which I infuse in the warm milk and then remove, because the taste can can overpowering.

-Cloves: They have a very strong, aromatic taste, and are widely used across Asia. It is a great anti-inflammatory: I have been told to use it for toothache, and helps to eliminate bacteria and fungi. It also provides relief for respiratory issues and asthma.

My recipe for two cups of Chai Latte:

– 2 cups of milk

– A big teaspoon of loose black tea

– 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

– 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger (you can use a small piece of fresh ginger instead)

– 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg

– 2 cardamom pods

– 3-4 cloves

– Brown sugar to taste

My version of Chai Latte
My version of Chai Latte

Basically, just mix the milk, tea and spices into a small pot and place on low fire, making sure the milk doesn’t boil. Once hot, remove from the fire and leave to cool down for a few minutes, for the spices to gently infuse the milk. Sieve to remove the tea leaves, cardamon pods and cloves, add a bit of honey to taste, and serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Enjoy!

Health and Beauty

It’s all about SOAPS ! Flax seed oil and Shea butter soapmaking

I’m fascinated with soap making processes at the moment, and I have been looking up dairy soaps and olive oil soaps, which both sound amazing! I am ordering some ingredients and will be sharing more detailed recipes soon. Basically there are four options for soap-making :

– the Cold Process : mixing lye and oils

– the Hot Process, similar to the first one, but during which the soap is cooked

– using a Melt and Pour base: melting a pre-prepared solution and adding fragrances and oils

Rebatching, with means reusing soaps and adding new ingredients to transform them.

Savon de Marseille - Traditional soap making using olive oil
Savon de Marseille – Traditional soap making using olive oil

I am a big fan of ‘Savon de Marseille’, soap traditionally made in the Marseille area in France, and the famous Aleppo soap, both of whom are usually made with olive oil. Many soaps nowadays contains sulfates (in particular sodium sulfates) which dehydrates the skin. I have some ghassoul clay, Moroccan Argan oil and Flax oil which I would love to use in a soap. Goat milk soap is also popular at the moment: it is hypoallergenic, moisturizing, and great for sensitive skins.

I chose a very simple recipe to share with you as I am a beginner with soaps myself, but hopefully I will get more adventurous once I get the hang of it. I have chosen to follow the Cold Process method and I have used sodium hydroxide to make the lye, as this is the most natural and traditional way of making soap. It is also easier to check exactly what goes into your soap, as Melt and Pour often contain a long list of ingredients.

Flax seed oil and Shea Butter Soap 

For the Lye:

25 grams of caustic soda

65g of distilled water

For the oils:

150g of Flax seed oil

50g of Shea butter

Flax seeds are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and have many cosmetic benefits : they help to smooth the skin and to clear acne
Flax seeds are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and have many cosmetic benefits : they help to smooth the skin and to clear acne

You will also need two glass containers to combine and heat the ingredients, a spatula (I used a silicon one), a whisk or hand mixer, and moulds. It is important to protect yourself with gloves and goggles in case of a reaction, as caustic soda can be dangerous. Don’t leave within reach of children! Also remember to not use aluminium utensils as they react with lye.

– Carefully weight and prepare the ingredients.

-Add the solid caustic soda to the water (Never ever do it the other way around as it will ‘erupt’). This will heat, so put on the side and leave to cool.

– Combine the Flax seed oil and the Shea butter in the 2nd glass container and place in a pan of hot water until completely melted. Remove and leave to cool.

-Once both liquids are at room temperature, pour the lye solution into the oils and start mixing with a whisk or mixer. After around 15 mins, the mix will start solidifying into a custard consistency. This is called ‘tracing’: a drop into the mix will leave a trace. At this stage you can add a few drops of your favourite essential oil.

– You can then pour the mix into your moulds, and set aside. After a few days, the soaps should be hard enough to be removed from the moulds, and are now ready for curing! It is recommended to leave the soaps cure for about 6 weeks, until the Ph levels have gone up (above 7), which means they are not acid anymore and can be used on the skin. You can use Ph strips to check if they are ready. Pictures of my experiments coming soon!

You can create your own recipes easily using a soap calculator such as the Sage.

My first batch after curing :

My first batch of soap: flax seed oil and shea butter
My first batch of soap: flax seed oil and shea butter
Health and Beauty

Lemon: Your detox friend…and a lemon mask recipe

Continuing with the good start of 2013, here are a few detox tips using lemon. During the dark winter months when the evenings are long, the only thing we want is to cuddle up in bed with a warm hot chocolate and comforting food. To restore your energy levels and freshen up before the spring, I recommend a very simple recipe: hot water with fresh lemon, first thing in the morning.  Lemon, from the citrus family (Utruj in Arabic) has a long list of health benefits : it is high in vitamin C which strengthens the immune system (which is why it is recommended for colds) and is an antioxidant. However, whereas orange juice is acidic, lemon juice is actually helps digestion one of the most alkaline fruits and helps to balance the body’s pH. It supports digestion by kickstarting the production of bile, thus why it is good to drink it before having breakfast.

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The great thing with hot lemon water is that it helps me to reduce my coffee intake, and it is a diuretic, so it helps the body to get rid of toxins. Lemons are mentioned several times in Islamic traditions: in one hadith, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said: “The citrus fruit is like a true believer, with a sweet taste and a pleasant scent” (Sahih Bukhari). In Suyuti’s medicine book, lemon is described as such: “The sour citrus is cold and dry. From it is made lemon juice, which is good for hot stomachs. It also strengthens and gladdens the heart, stimulates the appetite, quenches the thirst, satisfies hunger, cures diarrhoea and palpitations.”

There are hundreds of different recipes for the skin and the hair using lemon juice, zest or peel, mixed with honey, egg, avocado… Lemon is especially good for oily skins and acne, as it is purifying and antiseptic. As I tend to have a more sensitive skin, I chose a more gentle facial mask recipe to share with  you. It only requires oats and a lemon.

Lemon and Oat face mask

Cook 1/4 of of oat (I simply used organic porridge oats!), and once it has cooled down, add the juice and zest of half a lemon. You can add an egg yolk as it is also good for reducing oils in oily skin. Mix together until you get a smooth paste.

Apply on clean skin and leave until dry. Remove with warm water. Job Done!

Health and Beauty, Uncategorized

A great organic lip balm for the cold days!

Salaam alaykoum, Peace be upon you all!

I made myself a batch of mandarin lip balm this week, and since I’m very satisfied with it, I am going to share the recipe! It’s very very easy (once you have sourced all the ingredients), and it keeps my lips soft and moisturised in the freezing weather. No chapped lips for me this year inshallah! I even use it on my face as I have a sensitive skin, and I get red dry patches because of the cold.

Anyway, enough talking, let’s get cooking! This recipe will make about 100ml of lip balm, so I got 10 little tips of 10ml each. You will need the following ingredients, preferably organic:

15g Yellow beeswax

50ml Apricot Kernel Oil

15g Cocoa Butter

25g Shea Butter

Just mix everything in a glass jug and cook in a Bain-marie ( which means place it into a pan of boiling water), and wait until it has melted into a liquid before taking it out of the fire. You can also do in the microwave, but it’s more fun to do it this way! 

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My little tins cooling down!

You can then add essential oils of your choice: I used Tea Tree oil because of its antiseptic qualities (about 20 drops) and Mandarin (about 40 drops) for its soothing and uplifting qualities, and because of its great smell. Mix with a spoon and pour into your containers before it cools down.

Done!

You can easily modify the recipe according to your needs: divide by ten if you only need one tin of lip balm, replace the Apricot Kernel oil by Almond oil if it is easier to find, or use 40g of Shea butter instead of using two different kinds. You can also use Mango butter which is very moisturising and a good anti-wrinkle.

My finished little products, ready to be used!
My finished little products, ready to be used!

A word of caution: I completely understand that you people are busy and don’t necessarily have the time to make your own gorgeous, precious, organic lip balm  when you could just pop in your local supermarket and get a cheap lipstick. The problem is that most of what you will find will actually dry out your lips even more rather than moisturising and soothing chapped lips. That’s because they prevent the air from passing, and because some ingredients such as alcohol, menthol and petroleum are aggressive for the skin. So please check the ingredients before you hand your money!

Health and Beauty

Choosing a good cleanser ( and a recipe to make your very own!)

Cleansing your skin is essential to keep it healthy, especially for those who live in big, polluted urban centers. Think about how much dust  and dirt is left on your skin every day! When choosing your cleanser, avoid the ones containing soap because it dries the skin out, alcohol that can be aggressive in particular for sensitive skins, and the fragranced ones. It is healthier to choose a simple, unscented cleanser with a limited number of ingredient. According to what type of skin you have, go either for a cream-based cleanser, good for dry skin, or a gel for oily skin. Natural ingredients such as aloe vera (soothing), or tea tree oil (for problem skins or acne) can work wonders when used to cleanse the face.

First, wash your hands, remove any make up, and wash the face with fresh water. then apply your choice of cleanser, massage into the skin, and rinse off. This will only take you 2-3 mins everyday, but it makes a big difference and will help your skin look clearer. The skin is the body’s biggest organ but it is also very vulnerable, being exposed to the sun, to temperature changes, to pollution…We often cover ourselves in expensive creams to prevent ageing, but do we ever check the composition of the beauty products we buy? They are often full of chemicals and attack the skin in the long term. Looking after yourself doesn’t have to be expensive not time consuming: invest your money wisely. Everyday kitchen ingredients such as milk are actually known to be good cleansers.

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For those of you who would like to make your own cleanser, here is a quick recipe for normal skin types and using two of my favourite natural ingredients, orange flower water and coconut oil (inspired by “Make your own Skincare” by Sally Hornsey)

SImply mix together the following ingredients:

-20g orange flower water

-30g spring water

-15g coconut oil

-5 drops of lime essential oil

-10g sucragel (sucragel is a natural emulsifier and thickener developed from sugar; sucragel AOF is organic and can be bought on the internet)

Preservative can be added. Store in a dark storage.

Health and Beauty

A quick mask recipe for the Winter

As the weather gets colder, it is important to make sure the skin is kept moisturized and protected from the wind to avoid getting cracks and redness, in particular for those who have sensitive skin like I do. Here is a recipe for a facial mask using dried apricots, which are full of much needed vitamins, iron and calcium: Pour hot water over a handful of dried apricots and leave them to soak for a few minutes, until the fruits have absorbed the water. Then, mix in a blender until you get a spreadable paste. You can add a few drops of olive oil to get the right consistency. Apply on the skin and rinse after 15 to 20 mins.

I love this recipe because it is so simple and it only takes a few minutes to prepare. It leaves the skin soft and hydrated and it feels so relaxing after a day in the cold! Dried fruits are great to stock during the winter: they are easy to conserve, they are packed with nutritients and do not have any added sugar. They also count towards your five-a-day, and make a perfect snack. Dried apricots are also commonly used throughout the Muslim world for cooking: try the delicious sweet tajine with apricots and prunes, or the Persian “jeweled” rice using a variety of dried fruits and nuts.

A market stall selling dates, dried figs and apricots (Al barqooq or mishmish in Arabic)

A word of caution though: there is nothing I like more than a long hot bath when it’s cold outside, but it actually makes the skin dry. It is much kinder for the body to keep the water at a reasonable temperature and to not subject it to drastic temperature changes! A cup of tea or hot chocolate and thick woolen socks will go a long way to give you this snuggly feeling.