Friday, 28 June 2013

Soaps and Soaks

After spending so much time at La Petite Maison, on what is virtually a building site, the renovations are starting to wear me down; physically, mentally and emotionally. Time to have a break from all this “doing” I think.

One of the best ways to recover after a day’s dirty work is to indulge in a long hot soak in the bath. I love to lay in a bath with herbs and flower petals infusing around me in the water, releasing their soothing scents. 

Lavender and Chamomile 

(harvested from the allotment)

have a soothingly soporific effect, helping to relax my aching muscles, whilst Calendula, Rose Petals and even oats work their healing powers to repair my much battered and suffering skin.  

I confess though that as romantic as it may appear at first with petals floating on top of the water, emerging from the bath with oats or chamomile flowers sticking to various damp patches of skin is not desirable and so I tend to contain the herbs in little organza or muslin bags which I let infuse in the bath water.

I should perhaps mention that my Lavender bath soaks are best used at the end of the day, when the next item on the agenda is sleep. The almost narcotic effect of the bath soaks can be detrimental to any planned activities, as Susan’s mum found out to her cost when she had a herbal bath on Christmas morning; resulting in dinner being prepared by Susan while her mum lay comatose and snoozing in an armchair.  

There is another way of enjoying a Herbal Bath that ever since I saw the episode of River Cottage when herbalist Eleanor Gallia filled a bath for Hugh Fernley Whittingstall with herbs and flowers in the water - outside in her herb garden at Nethercerne Farm, I have thought how lovely it would be to bathe in the open air surrounded by trees, herbs and wildflowers.

Can you imagine how gorgeous a herbal bath in the above settings would be?

Aside from our unreliable climate - with copious amounts of rain falling unpredictably and the currently unappealing surroundings of builder debris, practicalities would prevent this from taking place at La Petite Maison however. I have no desire to flaunt myself where ogling neighbourhood eyes (hitherto screened off, prior to the removal of the mature trees in the garden by the Elder-of-the-Much-Appreciated-Men-Folk) may now inadvertently peer gazing in horror not only at my nudity (shudder) but also at the huge ignominious bruises where I recently bashed myself on the scaffolding and which look as if I have received a rather bad beating. 

I should just interject here and suggest that there is somewhere ideal for this type of bathing experience and that is beside a certain “Lavender Walk” in the Perth Hills,

which if La Petite Maison ever reaches fruition is where I may find myself jetting off to for some much needed recuperation to stay with Sister Ruby aka Francois. But that is not likely to happen this month unfortunately!

So the other day I found myself setting off for a different type of soak. A soak with a seaside theme! No it was not a swim in the sea; although the benefits of the sea are captured with this form of bathing - but without having the worry of jellyfish or the icy chill of the water and the horrifying possibility of encountering something unpleasant from a local sewage plant floating by. Instead this form of bath involves seaweed and has to be one of the most therapeutic and relaxing baths I have experienced.

I have been known to occasionally gather seaweed from the shore, but that is mainly for use on the allotment, as seaweed makes excellent fertiliser and keeps slugs at bay; for my bath today the seaweed had already been gathered fresh that morning and washed at the Seaweed Baths where I was heading, by Dermot – the co-owner.

Seaweed bathing became popular in by-gone times when farmers collecting seaweed to use as a soil conditioner noticed the hacks and calluses on their hands healed as they handled the seaweed.  

As I drove past the bay the sun glinted on the water, but as I reached the Seaweed Baths clouds had gathered over the mountains and the sea took on a grey tint. The first spots of rain were beginning to fall as I got out of the car.

The Bathhouse staff were welcoming as usual and when the room was ready, after warming up first for several minutes in the Steam cubicle, I slid into the huge roll top bath amongst the floating seaweed and felt the heat from the water seep into my skin.

Apparently the steam session and the hot water dilate the pores and blood vessels, allowing the skin to be more receptive to the minerals and vitamins from the bath. 

The heat releases the seaweeds essential oils leaving the skin smooth and helps lower body stress and relieve skin conditions (psoriasis, eczema, acne etc). It has also been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of muscle aches and joint stiffness (rheumatism and arthritis), and excellent for some circulatory problems.

A pleasant smell emanated from the bath; salty and wholesome as I lay submerged like a mermaid with only my nose above the water and I felt all the stresses and tensions slip away as I swished the slippery silky seaweed around the water.

After my bath was over – (the forty five minutes were gone before I knew it), feeling revitalised and rejuvenated I set off for home, having purchased a packet of dried seaweed for home use and which I shall enjoy following the next exhausting day at La Petite Maison. Until that time I will carry on with the seaweed theme and make use of my homemade Sea Garden Soap with its special addition of Kelp.


Thursday, 13 June 2013

Sunshine; Freedom and a Little Flower

"Just living is not enough," said the butterfly.
"One must have sunshine, freedom,
and a little flower."

The past week has brought bright cornflower blue, cloudless skies, warm sunshine and with it for me a renewed burst of vitality and energy. I applied myself vigorously to my task of painting fascias and soffits at La Petite Maison - a priority that cannot be shied away from. However once complete and before I could become embroiled with another task at the house, I took advantage of my freedom and the glorious weather to spend some time at the allotment.

Oh yes - believe me the thought of a day by the Sea was very appealing, but time at the plot has been scant; the cold, late Spring means there is still planting and much work to be done, and after all a summers day spent at the allotment is far from a chore.

My pleasure at the prospect of the day ahead was marred only when upon my arrival I discovered that yet again the Council had blatantly ignored the desperate pleas of the Allotment Committee to

"Please Leave the Edges of the Plots Alone!"

Initially the boundaries received a thorough dosing of chemicals (turning Sweet Pea Lane into Chemical Alley!) but after our repeated requests to stop this practice had fallen on deaf ears - the Council eventually agreed to stop the spraying on the basis of reducing costs.

So now I find they have massacred my carefully tended boundary instead!

Teasels, Montbretia, Nasturtiums and Sweet Pea all chopped mercilessly to ground level. How absolutely infuriating! But on such a beautiful day I was not going to let it be spoiled by negative thoughts about the Council and so with great fortitude I temporarily dismissed it from my mind as I opened the gate and entered the plot.

Despite the recent cold weather the rhubarb has been magnificent;

The huge leaves glossy and green and stalks long, red and plentiful.
Rhubarb crumble has featured frequently on the menu lately.

The first crop of peas that I sowed in gutters failed dismally, turning brown and shrivelled up overnight. Happily my second attempt of sowing the peas directly into the ground was successful and I spent the first part of the morning creating a twiggy framework for the young shoots to scramble up making use of last year's raspberry canes.

The runner beans too had a bad start in the greenhouse; one batch of seeds did not germinate and turned to mush; out of the second batch only two came to fruition, but the third lot sown in May flourished and now planted are eagerly twisting their way up the bamboo canes.

There is not yet a lot of colour - beneath the white flowers of the hawthorn hedge and aside from the duck egg blue of the shed, the plot is predominantly cloaked in green with splodges of brown. However look closely and there are splashes of purple dotted throughout;  

the purple / pink of chives beneath the apple tree, 

and Lupins beside the gate at the entrance;

Columbines or Granny's Bonnet
(I think those names are so much more evocative than Aquilegias)

sway beside the brick path leading to the shed -

above the prolifically flowering Heartsease Violas.

I sowed the Violas last year from a Sarah Raven seed packet - the first flowers appeared cream and yellow, 

but after a few weeks the flowers that followed were a dark purple and yellow. Ideal - not just for livening up a green salad, or crystallizing to decorate cakes, but perfect also for pressing and using to decorate my handmade soap.

Handmade Herbal Soap

As the sultry summers day drew to a close, the evening sun bathed the plot, and I turned my attention to watering - when suddenly I noticed - beside the peas and the broad beans..........

A Sign!

The Rainbow's End!

I though how apt it was - 

My little piece of Paradise at the End of the Rainbow!