Steep Ravine Soap

Steep Ravine Soap was inspired by the same trail I hiked last Thursday with Hall Newbegin on one of his Wildflower Hikes.

The soap is redolent of citrusy Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga douglasii), with its crisp evergreen freshness accompanied by Redwood (Sequioa semprevirens) and California's Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californiac) - a warm, spicy evergreen tree that is 100 times more potent than the Mediterranean variety. A little whiff of that will bring you back to reality with a piercing nasal pain that's worse than horseradish!!!
I'm not kidding!
You got to stay away from it when you smell it, and than you can enjoy it's spicy, warm qualities which have more depth than the regular bay you're familiar with from cooking, but still bears a resemblance to it.

The soap is the usual high quality cold-processed bright green bar that contains the resins and infusions from the plants themselves, not just their essential oils. The saponified oils of palm, coconut, jojoba and olive oil produce a high-lather soap that's good enough to use in shaving, and with a strong scent that's perfect wake-up-call in a morning shower and a relaxing way to end the day if that's when you prefer to bathe. They can also make a great hand soap, and you can be sure that plenty of bacteria will be washed away with all the essential oils that are packed in this soap.

The beautiful packaging (designed in house, by the way) is made of craft paper, and has an etched impression of the trail's rocks, creek and redwoods, and includes an authentic background story and blending notes, that make a good read as well:
Scent notes include redwood, bay leaf, oakmoss and sea mist. And that's what you will enjoy if you hike up (and down...) Steep Ravine. I love the descriptions on each Juniper Ridge product. They are real and evoke true memories from hikes in the wilderness - in this case, a winter hike, picking mushrooms and staying at a cabin on a rainy night. After being there myself this summer, and smelling these plants in their natural habitat, I can enjoy bathing with Steep Ravine soap even more.

Hiking with Hall at Steep Ravine (Marin County, California)

Hiking in Marin with Hall Newbegin
On June 6th, I joined Hall Newbegin and a group of 10 interns from Slide Ranch on a wildflower hike at Steep Ravine. Hall picked me up from El Cerrito, and his car smelled strongly of all the wild herbs and needles he picks to scent the Juniper Ridge wildcrafted line of fragrance products. These include cold processed soaps scented with the real juice of plants, sachets made purely of dried plants from the wilderness, incense sticks, cabin sprays, and most recently - Backpacker's Colognes & solid perfumes that were designed to capture the unique scents that stick to your clothes and your memory after a day of hiking in places such as Big Sur, Steep Ravine or the Mojave Desert.

The hike was full of wonderful plants, beautiful scenery, people who are passionate about plants (which I rarely brush by in my urban daily life), and lots of learning, fresh air and we even got to pull out some weeds - invasive species that threaten the unique wild habitat and increase the frequency of forest fires.

So-called sage (a type of artemisia), which is part of the coastal sage scrub.

Cow Parsnip
Cow parsnip, a natural nerve-tonic.

Unusual formation of redwoods (they usually grow straight upwards), unique to the Marin coastal habitat.

We also stopped by the Douglas Fir tree and picked and smelled needles, which we added to the water. They have a pleasant, citrusy aroma, reminiscent of tangerines. So it's no surprise that they were valued by the natives as a source of vitamin C throughout the winter months.

Pissmint (was that really the name?). It smelled musky, warm and a little like patchouli.

Amercian Ginseng
American Ginseng. That's what ColdFX is made of... The leaves smell heavenly! Sort of herbaceously spicy and cucumber-like. Really hard to explain.

Trillium, a type of lily, also called birthroot (used by midwives to assist in labour).

Steep Ravine

Wild Violet Leaves
Wild violet leaves.


Onion-like flower, which we weren't able to identify...

Poison Oak
Beware of the poison oak!

Usnia: Lichen with properties good for treating Athelet's Foot (steep in alcohol to make a tincture). Recognizable by the white threads that appear when stretching out it's "branches". It also smells strangely watery, similar to calone...

Goldenback Fern
Goldenback fern: The yellow powder on the back of these little ferns can create a temporary mehendi. Fun!

Redwood Clover
Redwood clover.

Mountain Meadow with Pearly Everlasting

Top of the hill and view of the ocean.


Pearly Everlasting
Pearly everlasting: Beautiful in and out - this flower has a soft, warm, spicy herbaceous scent, more deliacate than other helicrysums that I've smelled.


Hills with lots of coyote bush.

The only part of the hike that was really steep: a small group of us went down this cliff to the bottom of the creek to uproot an invasive species that takes over the habitat. The rest remained on the top meadow, to get rid of thistles that bring on too many frequent forest fires and chase away the native plants.

View of Slide Ranch educational farm
View of Slide Ranch - an educational farm just by the beach.

Blue Eyed Grass
Blue-Eyed Grass.

Gum thorn
The flowers of Gumweed (Grindelia), a native American thorny plant, have a liquid white, sweet, sticky gum that's used to clear out lung infections.

Cypress near Slide Ranch
Gigantic cypress trees by Slide Ranch. This photo really does not do them any justice.

On the way back, Hall pulls out a bottle of oil infused with desert Chaparal from the Mojave desert and slabs some on my hand, than douses his face with it, contemplating compounding a beard oil out of it. The car fills with the bitter, spicy, smoky, warm and intriguing desert dryness, transporting me to somewhere I've never been to and make me feel as if I'm standing under the starry desert night and brewing a bitter tea on the campfire.

It was an inspiring, adventurous day and the highlights of all the plants from an aromatic point of view were the pearly everlasting and the white gum-producing plant. Next I will tell you about the Steep Ravine perfume and soap that Hall has created as an inspiration from this beautiful trail.

Spring Forest Risotto

Spring Forest Risotto by Ayala Moriel
Spring Forest Risotto, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.

Yesterday's foraging expedition got me in love with the rainforest all over again. And so I've decided to cook a special risotto for dinner tonight, that uses fresh seasonal vegetables and also makes use of unusual ingredients that spark my imagination.

I got a bunch of fresh, crisp organic asparagus at the farmer's market, and I've been thinking long and hard about what stock would work for an asparagus risotto?

A little voice in my head kept whispering something about green tea. But I couldn't pick the right one (and using the finest green tea I've got in a risotto seemed like a sacrilege...). But I knew that there was something better out there on my tea shelf... And finally it came to me: Hall's Fir Tip Tea!

I set to action, using young organic leeks instead of onions of shallots, sauteeing them in ghee (it's better than butter for cooking, in my opinion, as it doesn't scorch so easily). Then came the carnaroli rice, and quickly I realized that I was out of white wine... And that the white wine would have probably killed the "tea" flavour anyway with it's cheesy, yeasty afternotes. So of course, I used the last few drops of Hendricks' gin I had on hand instead, to much delight, and than proceeded with pouring the infused fir tip tea, a little bit at a time until it absorbs completely into the rice.

To make the fresh, delicate tastes really shine I've added no spices at all except for Maldon sea salt flakes. And the asparagus was steamed on the side and then incorporated into the risotto just before serving, and than topped with parmesan cheese.

The result is a very light, refreshing risotto, full of flavour of the forest and great contrast of textures: crunchy tender asparagus vs the creamy, starchy rice. The forest notes are not overpowering but are definitely there in the best way.

This risotto would go well with a white sparkling wine, the infused elderflowers with San Pellegrino - or, as we had it: with the remaining pot of fir tip tea sipped happily until the very last grain of rice was gone...

Spring Forest Risotto


2 tea bags of Juniper Ridge's Douglas Fir Tip Tea

1 L Boiling water

1.5 cups Carnaroli rice, washed well and drained

2 young leeks (or 1 large), greens included

2 Tbs butter or ghee (if you're vegan, you may use a light vegetable oil as well, such as grapeseed oil)

2 Tbs gin

Small bunch of asparagus (about 6 stalks), steamed and cut into large chunks

Parmesan cheese

- Steep the tea bags in boiling water

- Cut the leek (greens and all!) into thin slices

- Steam the asparagus until it snaps easily (do not overcook!). Cut into short pieces.

- Sutee in ghee until tender and transparent. Add a pinch of salt.

- Add the washed and drained rice and stir well for about 1 minute

- Add the gin and cook until the alcohol evaporated completely. Add a pinch of salt.

- Begin adding the tea, only a little bit at a time - just enough to cover the rice. Cook till it absorbs, and only then add more of the tea. Add a pinch of salt between each addition of

- Once all the liquids absorbed into the rice, and the rice is tender (not mushy - it should have a consistency similar to an "al dente" pasta), it's ready. Remove from heat.

- Adjust seasoning (salt only if required). You may want to ad a tiny bit of shaved juniper berries as well. Pepper is not appropriate for this dish as it's aroma will overpower the tea infusion.

- To serve - mix the rice with the asparagus pieces, and with Parmesan cheese to taste. Add a few larger pieces on the top for garnish. Add more shaved Parmesan cheese on the top.

- This recipe will go great with wild asparagus as well, of course. You may also use fiddleheads while they'r in season in place of the asparagus.

Siskiyou Cedar Soap

Juniper Ridge soaps

There is hardly anything I like better than receiving surprise packages in the mail. Be it an Amazon order I totally forgotten about, or better yet - care package from my family in Israel, or generous fragrant gifts from fellow perfumers.

The presents I got in the mail this winter from Hall Newbegin of Juniper Ridge were one of the highlights of the season. When I picked this package from the post office, it emitted the most profoundly outdoorsy scent of conifer imaginable. It was also extremely large for what I was expecting (to be fair, I knew there was a package coming from him because we connected on twitter of the creation of his new solid perfume line and he promised to send me a sample a while back). But inside it were also 2 bars of soap, as well as 2 room sprays, which accounts for the large box that I had to carry along Robson street, with my nose glued to the cracks in the carton box to get a whiff of Northern California's conifer forests as I go along...

I was first acquainted with Juniper Ridge's line in my visit to Strange Invisible Perfumes' boutique in Venice, California, back in 2009. I couldn't quite decide if it was innovative or cunning to put a bunch of coniferous needles in a drawstring bag and call it "sachet". But being from a place in the world even more abundant with needles than you can hope for - I didn't buy any as souvenir. All the same, the name stuck in my head and I would occasionally see them pop up at Whole Foods. It is completely thanks to the internet though, and in this case - twitter - that I got to know more about what they really do. When I got a notice of a twitter account with the name "wildflowerhiker" following me - I had to look into it and found out that the account owner finds nothing better to spend his time than hike around Northern California and collect wild plants for infusions, distilling and making sachets, soaps and more, and quickly discovered he was also working on perfumes inspired by Northern California's wilderness - using its own plants, naturally. And so we connected.

But back to the Siskiyou Cedar soap - which is what this post is all about: I have to preface with the notion that I'm very picky about soaps. Especially soap bars, which often can be drying. Even those that are made of wonderful oils such as olive, coconut and such can be painfully drying to the skin if they are not done properly. And when it comes to soap - I usually stick to one bar and just stock pile it for eternity (soap bars also make excellent closet "sachets" of sorts so they never are really just being "stored" per-se). My expectations for a soap bar are high: it has to leave my skin so happy that I won't even need a body lotion or a body oil after. I like being low-maintenance, and use oils and such only for an extra special occasion...

Well, the Siskiyou Cedar was a pleasant surprise because it did just that. It has amazing lather, and leaves my skin as happy as it ever wished to be, sans any urging desire to restore moisture after. And the best part of it all, of course, is its smell. I've never been to Siskiyou county, but I can tell you that this is a very authentic Northwester coniferous scent. It actually reminds me of redwoods, which dominate Northern California's coastal forests and bathing with this bright green bar in my hand I feel like I'm holding a portkey to an outdoors hot tub situated under redwood trees. I can see the stars gazing at me through the branches, sending glitters of light through a very cold night that hugs the steamy bath with darkness and serene mystery.

Ingredients: fresh extraction of wild Port Orford Cedar trimmings: saponified olive, coconut and palm oils, shea butter. 100% scented and colored with real wild Port Orford Cedar trimmings, no essential oils or colors added. Mild, all vegetable oil base superfatted with shea butter for an extra moisturizing face & body soap. Large 3.5 ounce bar lasts about a month.
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