Mastic Soap

Mastic Branches, Leaves & Resin

It's been a year-long dream of mine to make mastic soap, and the cooler temperatures outside were encouraging me to finally do it. Now that all the mastic bushes got a nice shower from the rain, and it wasn't so crazy humid I didn't need to worry about my face melting off and saponifying with the caustic soda fumes... Which seems quite feasible in 90% humidity. 

Mastic Resin

Grinding Mastic Resin

Ground Mastic

Ice & Lye

I worked with the mastic leaves in both the oil phase and the water phase, and both with the leaves and branches (which I steamed in the water; as well as infused in oil for about a month). The resin had to be pounded into the finest powder humanly possible, using marble mortar and pestle, and then infused in gently warmed olive oil for the course of several hours. 

Freshly Sliced Mastic Soap

Walking In A Cloud

Take a guess: Where was this picture taken?

Here's another hint, from the same place:

Whistler? Vancouver Island? Oregon Coast?
Not even close!
I'll give you another visual hint:

Oaks plus moss plus fogs - must be Northern California?

Non of it! These photos (and the ones to follow) were all taken on Mount Meron in Israel. This is one of the most luscious spots in the country, as the mountain blocks the rainclouds from the Mediterranean, thus keeping for itself 900mm of precipitation annually. Just a little more to the east from Mout Meron, the Eastern Galillee rapidly becomes about as dry as a desert, leading all the way to the Sea of Galilee, which is surrounded by rather dry, barren and rocky mountains.

The mountain has a very round shape, like a mound, elevation of 1,208m. The mountain also has a religious significance, as the tomb of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai is burried there with his son, Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon. Rabbi Shimon was a disciple of Rabbi Akiva - one of the most influential rabbis at the times of the Roman invasion (right after the ruining of the 2nd temple) and beyond. He was executed by the Romans, who did not allow the Jewish people to practice their religion; and Rabbi Shimon  and his son both had the same fate awaiting them - so they hid in a cave near Peki'in (a village in the Eastern Galilee - now mostly inhabited by Druze people). They lived there for 12 years, getting their nourishment from a well and a carob tree at the entrance to the cave, and dedicated their entire time to study the Torah and it is also said that this is when Rabbi Shimon has written the Zohar - the mystical book that is the foundation for the Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism). Although the authorship of the Zohar is historically questionable, it is certain that Rabbi Shimon's significant influence on the Kabbalah and the much later Hassidic movement is with his assertion that the intent behind performing or observing the Mitzvot (Jewish laws) is of utter importance - the internal motive, not just the outer actions need to be observed. This is very unusual for Judasim, which is fundamentally a religion of laws and deeds, and doesn't quite tell people what to think or believe in, jsut what to do... In celebration of his life, every year at the anniversary of his passing in Lag BaOmer, Hassidic people particularly from Safed and the entire country make a pilgrimage there, lighting bonfires and giving their 3 years old sons their first haircut and celebrate Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's spiritual legacy.

On the slightly overcast morning of March 25th, 2014, I set to hike on this beautiful mountain with my energetic teenaged daughter. The original route (suggested by my tour guide brother Yotam) as we originally were supposed to meet my other brother and his 3 young kids. We were supposed to drive all the way to the peak and walk on a circular trail called "The Peak Trail" which surrounds the military base at the top of the mountain. I stopped on the entrance to the nature reserve, and saw a sign leading to the peak. Even though the surrounding did not match my brother's description whatsoever, I set on the trail. Which turned out to be everything but an easy 1 hour stroll around the peak... We had enough food, water and first aid supplies to last for a whole day, so I was not worried and even when I suspected we were on the wrong trail, we just kept climbing the mountain.

At first, we were walking up through many shady oak trees. There was no sign of any of the rare spring wild flowers my brother raved about, and I must admit I was a tad disappointed. But after about 20 minutes of hiking, there was a bit of a clearing the landscape changed ever so slightly, to include some arbutus trees (in bloom, as pictured above - with little honeyed white flowers, reminiscent of linden, mimosa and araucaria), as well as more open patches of rocky earth. That's where I spotted the first pink orchid (probably an Anatolian Orchid). I was so excited I snapped a few closeups... But later on this little orchid turned out to be the most common seasonal wild flower on the mountain - so much there there were entire meadows of it!

We kept climbing up and up, reaching a sort of a plateau and marveling at the impressively tall Cedars of Lebanon (pictured at the beginning of the post), until we reached a little resting area built of rocks, and facing the west. We sat down to eat our lunch (we were already hiking for an hour then, and it was getting later then I planned). We bought sambusac on the way - a Druze flatbread that is baked in open fire taboon and is filled with various delicious condiments - labneh (yogurt cheese), za'atar (mixture of wild hyssop, sumac and sesame), and kishek (a condiment made of roasted peppers and walnuts). All were still piping hot from the fire! We were not even halfway through lunch, when all of a sudden I felt a cool tickle on my bare arms. Before I even registered what was going on, grey clouds gathered from the west, and we were at the midst of a thunderstorm! We got our sweaters back on and took cover under the oak trees, continuing to munch on our sambusac, taking our time, and hoping that the storm will pass by the time we finish our food. And fortunately, it did. We emerged from our cover to find the entire mountain blanketed in a rather thick, foggy cloud. The unmistakable clear petrichor fragrance  emanated from the earth, which has been dry for a couple of weeks now. It felt like walking on a cloud, literally: We were almost at the peak by now, and we could barely see anything beyond the trail.

And then we spotted some more rare wild flowers! Tulips, and other bulb flowers which I am yet to identify.

We went all the way to the top, and then glided all the way back (and much faster by then, as we were skipping and hopping down the trail like restless mountain goats). We then drove all the way through the fog to the peak (from where we were supposed to take the circular trail) and on the way we spotted another type of orchid.

My Summer Scrapbook

Courtyard beauty: this is papyrus by the pond.

Summer is coming to an end in just about a day and a half... It's been a very sweet, yet short, summer. And I'm glad I was able to get some rest in preparation for the busiest season, commencing tomorrow, with my week-long intensive week about Orientals!

- This sign marks the site of daily pilgrimage: Sunset Beach...

Easter Lilies, blooming in summertime at the pond in my building's courtyard.

Summer squashes, leeks and mini artichokes at West End's Farmers' Market

Red Currants at West End Farmers' Market

Twisted carrot legs, sitting atop a carrot sandwich cookie (that's right - it's filled with cream cheese frosting!). In the background is a roobois chai tea, the perfect companion to carrot cakes OR cookies...
Angel's Trumpets: the full glory of their scent to be discovered only at dusk.

Continue reading more elaborate summer fragrances and flavours in this post.

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Summary of Summer: Fragrances and Flavours

Just by the building that gives all the services possible to bathers of Sunset Beach, there grows this mysterious little tree, with the most intensely smelling flowers. They look a little like jasmine, but smell like honeysuckle. Their scent intensifies around sunset and after dark, and makes saying goodbye to the beach even harder every evening!

Here here: a less brighter image of the cafe at Sunset Beach. The closest swimming beach to my house, albeit probably not the cleanest... It's never too crowded, and always very peaceful - which is what I love most about it. I was able to not only contemplate on my Orcas perfume there, but also swim alongside a seal!

Red currants in the West End Farmers' Market: these actually taste awful, if you ask me. Kinda bland and sour with an unpleasant aftertaste. No wonder why the mostly cook them into jelly! Black currants, on the other hand, have a much stronger aroma, probably less agreeable, but I love them. Go figure...

Afternoon tea @ Noriko's: these are Yuzu Imo Yokan (these are jelly-like consistency sweets to accompany tea). She served them, of course, with the most flavourful Japanese green tea - it had no additives, yet had a peach or osmanthus-like character!

Noriko also gave us these miniature sour plum & shiso rice crackers, which are absolutely adorable...

Rosemary and two types of seaweed at Sunset Beach. There is a whole bush of rosemary there, and it is going to play a big role in a perfume I'm working on called Orcas, which I've been blogging about throughout this summer...

Just a bunch of (dead) crabs...

Zucchini flowers: my first time trying them this summer. One time I stuffed them with rice and baked them in olive oil. They turned out fantastically crisp and delicious.
Other time, I stuffed them with herbie soft cheese and sauteed them in olive oil, they did not hold their shape as well as with the rice, but were just as if not more yummy, and a very nice addition to a summer salad!

Angel's Trumpet: by night time, these trumpets are like a feast for your nose. All you need to do it place it in the trumpet and inhale the candy-like, heliotropin citrus and flowery perfume of this datura type of flower.
Hard to believe it belongs to the same family as tomato, pepper and eggplant!

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Olfactory Quilt: Spring 2008 in Vancouver

Urban Daisies, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Spring is about to come to an end come June 21st. And since I usually prefer to spend my Springs in Israel, this might be my only chance to create this type of collage on SmellyBlog, capturing my impressions of Spring in sequence from March till June. Besides, I feel this Spring was the first one I actually “got” – just like an obscure and fleeting perfume that won’t easily let you discern it’s different notes. Being spoiled with Middle-Eastern Springs, that are all about a showy explosion of flowers – both colours and smells – the subtleties of a West Coast Spring have escaped me for years.

Spring in Vancouver always seem to arrive early, with the first brave tree blossom – plum and cherry. But it is the daffodils and the tulips that announce it more explicitly, encouraging kindergarten and schoolteachers to decorate their classrooms with yellow cutouts of certain floral shapes.

Daffodils have a scent that I am yet to be able to describe. It’s altogether clean and soapy and at the same time has that dirty indolic floral underlining it all. And tulips have no scent at all for all I can tell from a floral perspective – perhaps one can smell a green hint from the petals and the stingy odour of pollen.

Mysterious and invisible blossoms
It seems that here, the tinier the flower, the more fragrant it is. If the air is not completely washed out by air, you may detect an overall floral intoxication lingering in the air. Deemed urinal-smelling by some, to me this is very similar to the scent of wild narcissus from back home. However, this is happening at the very beginning of spring, when there are hardly any blossoms to be seen – definitely not narcissus. It took me 10 years to gun down the source of this olfactory pollution: privet blossom.

Magnificent Magnolias
Magnolia Highrise, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Magnolias are not just a Southern thing (although the porch pictured below may as well pass for one). There are trees in every shape, size and colour spread around the city, and I am very thankful for that. There are white magnolias, pink magnolias and even very dark red-wine magnolias. The most beautifully fragrant are the white and the pink (with some exceptions – each tree has it’s own unique scent it seems). The flowers are outrageously beautiful. Glorious really.

Magnolia, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Magnolia, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossoms are the never-tiring cliché of spring just as much as almond blossoms are in Israel’s Tu BiShvat. With the strong influence of Japanese culture in Vancouver, there is in fact a (quite) Sakura festival happening in the city, the centre of which takes place on the weekend, under the cherry blossom boulevard of Burrard SkyTrain Station. I have missed this year’s festival but you could say I constantly celebrated with my own perfume tribute to the poem “In A Station of the Metro” which is my interpretation of this exact locale. With this and thanks to the whimsical hot-and-cold weather prolonging the season (freezing the flowers and than defrosting them, almost literally!) -it’s been certainly a Sakura spring for me in more ways than I can reveal in such a short paragraph.

Parallel Horizons and Vanishing Points, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Hyacinths and the 7 S's
Hyacinths hold a special place in the Persian New Year’s celebration. They are presented as an offering on the table with the 7 S’s (Haft Seen) – various objects (mostly living objects – such as fish and sprouted wheat) to bless the new year. Hyacinth symbolize life and beauty. Within closed quarters, these grape-like clusters of blue, pink or white flowers may be overbearing, but outdoors in the gardens on the typical chilly spring days, they are green, fresh and beautiful and positively intoxicating.

Hyacinth, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

In contrast to the fragrant hyacinths, these bulb flowers have no scent at all to write home about. Perhaps there is some greenness about them, but if there is any scent at all I suspect it comes from the pollen-covered stamens. Tulips of all shapes, colours and patterns take over the city for a short period of time, and if you are not careful you may get convinced that you are actually in the Netherlands during early April. This particular tulip in the photo looks like a flame, with its dark (nearly black) petals trimmed with gold.

Flaming Tulip, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Lily of the Valley
Come late April, and silver bell-like offerings of lily of the valley pop up in high end flower shops around the city. Although they could, you will rarely see them growing in gardens. This year I have made a point of filling my home with little bunches as long as I could find them. Needless to say, I did not regret it one bit!

Lily of the Valley, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Miscellaneous beautiful flowers, of now particular scent
The following is literally a collection of flowers that caught my eye and that have become iconic symbols of Vancouver’s spring for me. Bleeding hearts, with their drop-dead-gorgeous jewel-like designs; Irises, both yellow and purple, popping up in skunky marshes and ponds; poppies with their strange un-red colours or the cultivated gigantic vermillion awe-inspiring opiatic presence. And lastly, this strange passionflower-like climbing shrub that I discovered in the back garden and I have no idea what it is.

Bleeding Hearts, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Sun-washed Poppies, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Sort of a passionflower, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Iris, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Peach Scented Flowers
The identity of this bush/shrub is unknown to me and it bloosm with the most enchanting peach scent that reminds me of both lilac, osmanthus and of course - peach. If you know its identity, please do tell.

Peach Scented Flowers, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Rhododendrons and Lilacs
I’ve already raved about the beautiful rhododendron gardens of the city before and I could probably blog about them every day when they’re in bloom. Needless to say – I’m smitten with rhododendrons and the variety of colours, shapes and fragrances they add to this green & gray place I’m living in. The particular combination of rhododendron flower on a backdrop of lilac bush in full blossom is like adding a cherry on the top. Now, this is a perfume.

Rhododendron & Lilac, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Summer Just Around the Corner

Jasmine after the rain, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

You know summer is at the door when the peonies start to bloom and when you can smell the jasmine flowers in my balcony. I picked a little bunch of jasmines for a building-block photoshoot (the results of which I hope will be of much use in the not-so-far future on both my website and printed guides). Just three of these small blossoms were enough to perfume my entire bedroom. This was your daily-dose of an aphrodisiac.

Pink Penoies, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

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