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Nerikoh

Handful of Nerikoh

Here's a handful of shaped and rolled nerikoh - incense balls from a Saturn planetary blend. The last one to complete my series of Planetary Incense Pastilles. It was a long journey to get to this point, so let me share the steps with you. Unbeknownst to you, I hav been working on a series of incense pastilles for the Seven Ancient Planets. It all went swimmingly well (not counting the years of trial and error prior to that, which began in 2001 when I first tried to make such pastilles, and abandoned it pretty quickly to move onto making the perfumes you've been enjoying all these years).

When I came to compounding the incense for Saturn, I got stuck. I went back to some of the ingredients I've used originally, and that are associated with Saturn: Myrrh, cassia, patchouli, vetiver, cedar and cypress. I changed the formulation to make it a little less harsh. Also I had actual Arizona cypress, which smells amazing - both leaves and twigs - added to this blend, rather than cypress essential oil which I used in the original formula. I was rather happy with the smell albeit it dry and bitter/acrid character (which is rather typical to Saturn energy). However, there was one problem: despite the large amount of resin, these did not form into pastilles when alcohol was added. I really did not want to turn these into incense cones. After consulting some of my incense friends, they've advised me to turn these into Nerikoh, which are Japanese incense pastilles. These are made with any compounded fragrant woods, spices and resins but are glued together with sweet sticky materials such as plums or honey.

Nerikoh for Rosh HaShanah

I made a tiny experiment with just one ball of Nerikoh before leaving for my trip to Canada. It worked well, and didn't get super hard, even though I added some makko powder prior (with the thought of turning this into incense cones). Adding honey to my Saturn planetary incense blend on Rosh Hashanah seems very appropriate. And this is what I did on Rosh Hashanah even. Of course, I added too much honey, so I left it to dry for a few days... In the above photo you can see the first step in making Nerikoh. It looks and feels very much like baking - but smells quite different!

Nerikoh
Now the honey is all mixed in to form a dough. This has a very sticky consistency, not unlike the  honey cookies I make every year for Rosh Hashanah!

Shaping Nerikoh

Shaping the nerikoh begins with making a "pitta" from the sticky "dough" and scoring it into stripes and then further cutting into small tiny squares. From these we'll make little balls, as close in size as possible. The tricky part is that it's a very sticky dough! A little like making honey cookies for Rosh HaShanah. Of course, if your mass is less sticky than the one I made, it would be easier. I also imagine that having a better surface would also help. I imagine a granite or marble surface would be better than the screechy stainless steel I have here. Although it does work quite okay.

Making Nerikoh

Forming the nerikoh dough into tiny balls. A little like making minature chocolate truffles... But way stickier! I used extra powder of sandalwood to avoid stickiness. And even then I had to go over the balls several times in the following days because they kept sticking together. Blame it on humidity. Oh, and the overdose of honey which obviously haven't dried out quite well yet.

Nerikoh
Nerikoh is ready... Almost. Needs to be cured for 6 months though before it is properly dried and develops its full character. And then it can be warmed on a micah plate atop charcoal buried in ash to fully enjoy its aroma. This can be also done with an incense heater, or even an aromatherapy diffuser (a little bowl set above a tea light).


The First Few Sips are the Hardest

Drink-Coffee-Ad

"The first few sips are the hardest", I tell my daughter, who's in her favourite coffee shop in Vancouver, sipping on her favourite beverage ever, which she always drinks. Except, she hasn't had it for almost two years. We simply weren't around.

First comes the ecstatic response when seeing the cup, filled over the brim with this crushed ice and mocha. Then comes a sip, and her facial expression changes. There is nothing wrong with the taste. It's exactly as she remembered it. Perhaps it's even too much the same as she remembers it. I can see how with every sip she's turning sadder, getting deeper into another place and another time then this very moment in the coffee shop where we're at. And the tears start welling up.

The first few sips are the hardest. The first one is a big wave of happiness, familiarity, comfort. Like the first time she had it (probably with her dad). Then she remembers sitting next to him in the coffee shop on Robson street , watching attentively over his shoulders as he's writing code on his laptop, for hours on end. It's a happy memory alright. Except that they don't do this anymore. And the wave of happiness is washed over by a tsunami of sadness, with rushing memories of all the good things that were and ain't no more. And also all the not so great memories like that time when mamma ordered the wrong drink and... oops, Mom, my coffee spilled on the floor. And before you even know it, she misses everything - elementary school, and summer camp, and this babysitter, and another. And every each person that ever got her that drink in that very same coffee shop.

The first few sips are the hardest. And if you're experiencing this flavour nostalgia for the first time, after many years of not tasting (or smelling!) something that has been deeply engrained in your life for ever so long, and don't have the words to express it, or the emotional tools to cope with it, it might become a natural disaster of personal magnitude. Maybe you'll never even drink coffee again after this. It's just too much like an emotional rollercoaster, with the ups so high and the lows so devastating that this aroma has now registered as a dangerous thing in your mind.

Balmy Breeze

Wisteria

Balmy breeze with remnants of freeze. Black cottonwood buds (Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa) lightly scent the air, bring to mind chilly spring morning that are warmed up by their cozy balsamic aroma. The beginning of spring (and allergies). Except that it's August. What a strange experience, on a warm summer day to be greeted by this scent and no other on my arrival to Vancouver!

This smell is like walking along the defunct train tracks from Granville Island to my daughter's speech therapist on False Creek. Breathing in the cotton-candy sweetness of these mysterious trees, which I was never able to recognize. Or walking by a vanilla-and-balsam-scented tree on Sunset Beach and never really understanding where the scent comes from. It took me years to pinpoint the source - not a flower, but the resin-protected young leaf, wrapped in sticky matter honeyed and persistent like propolis.   

I'm tempted to craft something from them - tincture, dry - anything to preserve this gorgeous scent that I will not find when going back home. But it's just the beginning of the trip and I can't get my suitcase filled with too much liquid mess already. Liquids are just not travel friendly. So I wear Komorebi instead...

Next peculiar encounter is with wisteria. I am immediately transported to the Petit Trianon garden in Versailles - a miniature village with an ancient wisteria vine that was in bloom in the spring I was visiting. Again, this is an out-of-place and out-of-season experience, disorienting as jet lag itself.

Thoughts on Fear

Snake Visit

About fortnight ago, a night before starting my two-weeks of teaching perfumery courses, I was blessed with an unexpected visitor: An unrecognizable snake.
Fear got the worst of me. I grew up here and know that there is only one poisonous snake around, and exactly how it looks (a viper). However, I wasn't around for many, many years and with climate change - who knows, maybe a colourful desert snake decided to migrate to the Galilee?!
The striking colours of the snake made me especially frightened (usually they are a warning sign for danger). And also the fact that it got into my home and was coming out of a very narrow crack between the door's frame and the wall (as you can clearly see in the photo). I immediately snapped the photo and sent to my family, and called my brother to come and help me out. He got here so quickly, without even checking the photo, and in the meantime - the snake started to move. Which frightened the hell out of me... So I quietly and swiftly came up with a murder plan and started whacking the snake with a metal dustpan I use for clearing the ashes out of the wood stove.

By the time my brother arrived, I was already convinced I killed the snake. And he sadly told me this is an erdviper, in Hebrew מחרוזן דו-גוני או מחרוזן הטבעות, AKA Müller's black-headed snake (Micrelaps muelleri). It is not dangerous to people (although it does have venom, but in it's back teeth - so it's very rare to get fully bitten by it). It's a snake that is only active at night, when it would go hunting for various bugs, spiders, mice and smaller snakes, and spends the days under rocks. Being more comfortable handling reptiles than I am, he picked the snake and discovered it is actually still alive. He released it in the garden, at first the snake did not move much but then crawled away and was never seen again.

This encounter left me shaken and with many mixed feelings. First of all feeling very guilty that I injured this snake. Then also very perplexed and surprised about the powerful, visceral fear I felt finding a snake in my home. Then about the degree of aggression I was willing to perform against a creature I don't know anything about but was so mistakenly convinced could endanger me and my family. It got me thinking about many things - human aggression in general, and how powerful our defence mechanisms are that could push us to do horrible things. This seemed especially relevant for this time of instability and violence in the Middle East. We need to all do some serious work overcoming our fears and learning how to be more rational and less defensive. This is only possible by building more trust with our neighbours, both human and animal, and getting to know them better. When you know something you can't be afraid of it. At least not as much as I was that night.

Blue Lotus & Mandrake

Blue Waterlily AKA Blue Lotus

What do blue lotus and mandrake have in common?
For one thing, I spotted both growing wild in Ein Afek nature reserve, the remnants of the wetlands of the Na'aman river, whose origin springs are just southeast of the beautiful city of Akko. Secondly, both have hallucinogenic properties, and were valued by herbalists, magicians, shamans and witches for thousands of years.

Blue Waterlily
Blue Lotus (Nymphea caerulea) is truly a blue waterlily, highly prized by the Egyptians, who treated this plant that grew in abundance along the Nile Valley. Nowadays, it is a scarce plant that grows in marshes and ponds in that area. The flower blooms only for 3 days, in which it rises 20-30cm above the water, opening around sunrise, between 7:30-8:00am and closing around noon, a cycle that echoes the solar rising and setting.

To the ancient Egyptian imagination, the yellow centre with its shooting yellow stamens set agains the blue flower symbolized the sun set in the azure Egyptian skies, and associated the "sacred lily of the Nile" with the sun god Ra. Blue lotus plays a role in an even earlier Egyptian myth - a myth of creation, which tells how the flower rose from "Nun" - the chaos - even before the sun itself was created.

"I am the pure Lotus which springeth up from the divine splendor that belongeth to the nostrils of Ra. I have made--my way--, and I follow on seeking for him who is Horus. I am the pure one who cometh forth out of the Field." (The Papyrus of Nu).

Garlands of blue lotus were found in tombs and are portrayed and mentioned in the Book of Coming Forth by Day (AKA Egyptian Book of the Dead) - the guide for the soul in the afterlife.  "Transformation Into Lotus" is described in both in the papyrus of Nu and the papyrus of Paqrer. Blue lotus was also found in countless frescos and decorations on various ritual chalices. The priests would steep  the flowers in wine and harness its narcotic and hallucinogenic properties in their rituals to reach a state of ecstasy.  The flower's naturally occurring amorphine, nuciferine and nornufcferine are what give it hallucinogenic properties.

The Egyptians would steep the flowers in wine, thus creating a narcotic concoction that was used for ritual by their priests. Additional ancient mention of lotus' hallucinogenic properties are the Lotophagi ("Lotus Easters") in Homer's Odyssey.

Mandrake Flowers
Few plants are as intriguing as the Mandrake - a highly poisonous plant from the nightshade family that is native to the Mediterranean and most of Europe. The species that grows in Isarel is the Mandragora autumnalis, and it's been mentioned twice in the bible:
“The mandrakes send out their fragrance; and at our door is every delicacy; both new and old; that I have stored up for you, my beloved.” - Song of Songs 7:13

And in the book of Genesis an elaborate story of jealousy and seduction takes place, involving the two sisters (and wives of Jacob) Rachel and Leah. Reuben finds mandrakes in the field and gives them to his mother, Leah. She has been neglected by Jacob for quite some time in favour of her barren sister. And so she trades the mandrakes with Rachel for a night with their shared husband. Rachel agrees, in hopes that the aphrodisiac power of the mandrakes will open her womb. From that night with Jacob, Leah's fifth child is conceived.

It is unclear from the story which part of the mandrake was used. The elaborate root systems of mandrakes, which often looks like a human, has a folklore reputation of solving infertility. There has been much myth about uprooting the mandrakes, without disturbing the little demon underground. A renown technique has been to tie a dog to the plant so that the dog would absorb the plant's curse once uprooted. Reuben must have gone through a lot of trouble to help his mother!

The fruit, on the other hand, have an intoxicating aroma that supposedly is enough to arouse the most frigid person on earth. I am yet to see this golden fruit or smell it in person, but I've been told it smells like pineapple. The fruit is the most edible part of this toxic plant, although one must be careful not to consume any of its peel or seeds. It is for a reason that it's Arabic name is "Tufah el Majnun" - Apples of the Insane.

Finding the mandrakes in such close proximity to the rare blue lotus was inspirational to me and sparks the imagination. Whether if it its their colour or the myth surrounding them, this is a theme I intend to go back to when I'm next brewing in my lab.


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