Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Anya's Garden Announcement - Kaffir and Temple Perfumes to Launch November 1, 2007 and Anya's Choice Store Reopens

Kaffir, a unique and groundbreaking perfume from Anya's Garden, truly is from Anya's Garden - in Miami Shores, Florida, USA.

Kaffir Lime leaf, also called Thai Lime Leaf, is used in Asian cooking for the unusual, exciting, penetrating flavor it imparts. The petitgrain oil also imparts an aldehydic kick, and Kaffir the perfume honors and exalts that sensual experience. No other citrus comes close to the odor impact of kaffir, which I call the King of Citrus.

There is a story of delight, destruction and rebirth behind the kaffir tree of my home garden. Nine citrus trees were planted - and ripped out - of my garden. I planted them when I moved in, but the State of Florida, in a misguided attempt to stop the spread of a non-threatening citrus disease, cut down over 1,000,000 citrus trees, including my kaffir tree. However, my kaffir was the only one to resprout from the roots, and I was the beneficiary of the illegal harvest. Since then, the State of Florida has terminated the cutting down the the trees, and I have not replanted anymore, due to fear of another "ban".

My Kaffir perfume contains both the oil of the leaves and even more rare, the extract of the fruit, which is used in Ayurvedic beauty items. I extracted the fruit rind oil myself for this perfume.

Kaffir contains notes of many of the plants that grow in my garden -especially my rare jasmines. I grow eight different jasmines, from J. officinale and a related variety Flore Plena, through all the J. Samacs, including Grand Duke of Tuscany, Maid of Orleans, Belle of India, Belle of India longipetala, and "night blooming jasmine" and "orange jasmine". I have carefully harvested and extracted the unique and lovely scents of these jasmines which are not available to the trade, since they are so rare and hard to grow. Here, in Kaffir , they find a home. Vanilla, agarwood, galbanum and tarragon round out the sparkly perfume, which starts out fresh and aldehydic, and gently turns floral, then woody and settles into a rich, leathery dryout, a true surprise for a citrus perfume!

Temple is for the quiet, inward spirit that yearns to enter the daily hustle and bustle. The sweet and candied Orange Essence Oil - made by distilling Orange juice - plays with spicy cardamom to awaken the senses. Siam benzoin, ambrette seed tincture, aglaia flower, borneol crystals, rare and precious Chinese herbs and spices including cassia envelop and strengthen. The Oud base gently supports and connects the wearer to the deeper core that gives balance.

My online store, Anya's Choice, was closed for two months as I prepared the online website and finalized details for the class I am teaching - click here to read more about it. To celebrate the reopening of the store, you can get a 10% discount by typing in the voucher code "natural" (without the quotes) and hitting recalculate at checkout. This offer good until November 15, 2007. Click here to visit Anya's Choice Store, where you will find my perfumes, and some of the most beautiful raw materials for the hobbyist or beginner perfumer, including Rose de Mai from Grasse, Jasmine grandiflorum from Grasse, outrageously rare and exciting Pandanus EO, Hyacinth absolute, Atlas Cedarwood, Vanilla planifolia absolute and more.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day - spotlighting Slow Food and Cropwatch and how their efforts can help save our food and our fragrances

If it weren't for our sense of smell, would would not be able to discern the food we put in our mouths. Our sense of smell makes it possible for us to taste our food. Our tastebuds help us sense salty, sour, sweet, bitter and umami. When purchasing tomatoes or melons at the store, we use our nose to detect which ones are the ripest with the probable best taste. No scent? No taste.

When agribusiness giants gobble up family farms, or development paves over yet another field of beans with concrete, we, the people, become more separated from the crops that smell and taste good. Every small scale farm that goes under puts another nail in the coffin of free enterprise providing fresh, tasty, nutritious food on our table or fragrant, beautiful ingredients for our natural perfumes. Taking your children out to a local farm to pick a pumpkin becomes more of an impossibility when urban sprawl means a 40-mile drive each way.

I call it the Cheez-Wiz factor. If people are raised on fast food and processed products - or synthetic perfumes - they have the least common denominator - like Cheez-Wiz - as their only reference point. Hard, pink, tasteless tomatoes? The veggie world's sin, a result of the Faustian pact between supplier chains and producers. In a generation there may not be parents left who know the bonding and sensory pleasure of bringing their kids to a U-pick farm because there's always that can of orange glop on the supermarket shelf. What a shame.

Organizations like Slow Food and Cropwatch are at the forefront of the effort to de-Cheez-Wiz the world. Their members "get it" - there is a need to return to the basics of the foodie and scent world -- re-educate our noses and palates as to what real food and real fragrance mean, and look for ways to preserve the livelihoods of the producers of those food and fragrance materials at the same time.

I recently joined Slow Food and am very excited by the chance to interact and cross-pollinate the ideas and ideals of the Natural Perfumers Guild with this organization. As an ironic, fun bit of karma, the day I was meeting with the local leader of slow food, Donna Reno, it was announced the restaurant we were lunching at was named one of Esquire Magazine's Top 20 restaurants in American. The restaurant is Michael's Genuine Food and Drink, close by my house in Miami's Design District. I asked Donna about other Slow Food restaurants in Miami, and was surprised when she said there aren't many. I wondered why - what is the criteria? She said that the restaurant must have a direct connection with the farmer -- up to and including having the produce delivered right to the back door of the restaurant.

What a sad testament to the vanishing farmland of South Florida - urban development is rapidly destroying the formerly-nearby farms, and the restaurateurs haven't connected to the remaining farmers in great numbers. The publicity and support that would result from such a connection could go a long way to helping save the local Redland farming district, and other nearby communities. I hope to become involved in establishing that connection, as my educational background is in agriculture and crop science, and I was very active in promoting the use of fresh herbs to local chefs from 1991 to 1998 or so. It's a link I dropped, and I'm going to reactivate it. The chefs used to buy my herb plants and natural perfumes, but I never thought of making the connection, or realizing the link to my undergraduate and graduate studies that focused on the historic overview of the misuse of our plains, valleys and agricultural lands.

Slow Food, Cropwatch, and Mandy Aftel have helped me see those links in a new light, and I want to encourage all the members of the Natural Perfumers Guild and anyone interested in great food, organic agriculture, natural aromatics and the preservation of a way of life that is quickly disappearing to get involved.

As a natural perfumer, my business - Anya's Garden - depends upon my access to natural aromatics. Unlike Slow Food, I do need transport systems to provide me with the distillates and extractions of aromatics from distant lands. Still, my philosophy of providing beautifully-made, artisan perfumes to my customers pervades every aspect of my waking hours. I supplement the air-transported natural aromatics by harvesting rare tropical flowers from my garden and extracting the scents myself. That way, I can offer Dracena fragrans and night-blooming jasmine as perfume bases -- there's no where else in the world you can obtain these.

My artisan touch extends to all parts of my business. The photo below was taken by me. The flower, a glorious scented Clereodendron, was picked from my garden moments before being arranged by me for the photo. I assembled the box made of recycled paper that is in the background. I hand-poured each bottle of perfume. The heady, luxurious natural perfume in each bottle is unique, took months of experimentation and tweaking, and will evolve slowly, sensually, layer by layer on your skin. That's Slow Scent and the artisan sensibility.

Tony Burfield of Cropwatch has waged a one-man war against the many issues involving the over-regulation of natural aromatics, the phasing-out of the small farm that produces aromatics, the break in the linkage to the indigenous distiller, the entire chain of production in natural aromatics that is being bought up lock, stock and barrel by the "big boys". The EU - European Union and IFRA - International Fragrance Association turn a blind eye to the need to maintain and nourish small farms and local culture and economies in their effort to homogenize and put their Big Brother seal on products ranging from bananas to rose oil.

Earlier this year, the Guild joined forces with Tony and Cropwatch, our tiny, new organization threw its 100 members' weight behind Tony's one-man operation and we had success! An online petition garnered over 900 signatures - and there is still time to add your name. The EU Cosmetics Commission agreed to a sit-down meeting with Tony, the first time ever (I believe) they have bowed to pressure like this. Bouyed along by support that is now growing in many sectors, Tony recently presented a rather blistering, long-overdue, comprehensive overview of the situation in the EU (in PDF version). It is also available in a Powerpoint form by clicking on the main Cropwatch page.

Slow Food was started about twenty years ago in Italy, and has spread worldwide to many countries, and now boasts 80,000 members. They have a palate education program, taking members out to orchards and farms to taste fresh, real food. The Guild's scent education program is similar, and our tools are simple - scent strips and a specific way to present the naturals - and the synths. If all you've ever smelled your entire life was the fragrance version of Cheez-Wiz, we'll give you a sniff of olfactory Cheez-Wiz - fake rose - and then a sniff of the real rose otto. Ah! Nose immediately educated, upgraded, delighted, desirous of the real, slow scent.

Reconnect with your senses. Eat a local apple. Support your local farmer. Sniff some real jasmine grandiflorum, support the efforts of Cropwatch in protecting your access to that glorious scent, and support your natural perfumer. Join your local chapter of Slow Food and slow down the urbanization and disconnect from your local farms. Sample, select, become a nose gourmet and a food gourmet who insists on artisan products, straight from the farmer or perfumer to your house.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Natural Aromatics and how they soothed some after 9/11: now in the book Precious Blood

It wasn't until months later, when I had a bit of a bad bout with the February mango pollen in Miami, that I realized I had damaged my liver a bit due to 9/11. After 9/11 traumatized the nation, it was noted some people turned to self-medication to deal with the terrorism. Some drank a lot, overate, or took drugs for depression. Some perhaps did all of the above. I turned to my beautiful aromatics, absolutes, essential oils, concretes and CO2 extracts, all from nature, all complex, heady, indulgent fragrances. They allowed me to escape into their fragrant magic, distract me, overwhelm me.

The year before, on my birthday, I had gone on a shopping spree, a gift to myself, of a lot of aromatics I was not familiar with, to fill in the gaps in my olfactory education. I had already been collecting and studying natural botanical essences since the early 1970's, but had let it lapse a bit in the late 1990's. In the early '90's, I had a very successful oil perfume line I sold in Miami, Anya's Tropical Essences. That led to private label work for hotels on South Beach, and numerous customers for custom (bespoke) perfumes. I guess I didn't feel challenged, for some reason, and there was no community of perfumers to really hook up with other than a chat group I had started on idma.com. There were only about 25 of us there, and there was no vision.

I really didn't know where to take the business to the next step. The impermanence of life, the horror of 9/11, kicked my complacent butt into gear. Night after night, even when vegging in front of the TV, I'd open one vial after another, do a "blind sniff" to train my nose to recognize all of the aromatics, the siam benzoin, the tagettes, rose centifolia from Morocco, vs. the rose centifolia from France, roman chamomile, german chamomile, tonka bean absolute, violet leaf absolute, davana, amyris, and dozens more. Once secure in my active role in recognizing them, I began the dilutions that allowed me to compare the aromatic families, then I began contrasting them to objectively note their synergy when blended. Very systematic, time-consuming, necessary.

Liver support herbs helped me recover from the February mango pollen onslaught, a previously minor problem when I annually got what sounded like a cold, but was really the sensitizing mango pollen irritating my respiratory system. This time, due to the overload of nightly aromatics work, I was sick for six weeks, including a brief bout of anosmia and loss of the sense of taste. Scary for a perfumer, to lose the sense of smell! Incredibly, although I only sporadically take liver support herbs now, and really watch my aromatics work to avoid overload, I have not even had the yearly pollen problem. Seems that was cleared up, and I'm very thankful for that!

What has all this to do with the subject of this blog? I shall tie all the threads together now, like a well-made perfume mist wafting up, the aromatics all singing together in unison.

In 2002, I started a Natural Perfumery group on Yahoo, expanding the resources that were limited on idma.com, and inviting a lot of aromatherapists and like-minded folk to join. Mandy Aftel had published Essence and Alchemy, and the book was stimulating a lot of people to take up natural perfumery. In 2004, a fellow named Jonathan Hayes joined the group, and posted occasionally. We corresponded behind the scenes, and I visited his website, and was impressed by his varied and well-documented accomplishments, from writing for major publications to expert photography, and his day job - forensic pathologist, a Senior Medical Examiner in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manhattan, and a clinical assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine. (job description from his website)

About two years ago Jonathan informed me that he was writing a novel that would include a bit about how the protagonist - a forensic pathologist - found solace in natural perfumery after 9/11. I had forgotten about it until I had to call him in July for a rather sad request, to confirm the death of perfume blogger Theresa Duncan, as I was in the middle of a lot of confusion about her passing. I had posted on the Perfume of Life forum when I discovered that she had committed suicide in NYC. Nobody could confirm it, since the press had not released a story on it. After two days of being dunned for proof, and not knowing how to provide it, I remembered Jonathan and called him. He did a bit of digging, and confirmed that a person by that name had died in NYC on the specific date.

Our phone call opened up talk about his book again, and I am very pleased that a major publisher, Harper Collins is publishing it. Jonathan has allowed me to share his passage, albeit brief, but oh-so-evocative - on natural aromatics and how their natural perfume can, as he put it, allow someone to - "get out of his head, and back into his body."

Jonathan wrote to me last night: Natural perfumery is not a plot arc in the book, but it is one of the keys to understanding the character; it's also largely autobiographical, relating to my experience with NP after 9/11, when things were getting to me. As far as NP goes, the most important part is the scene that ends the first day of the story, where the hero (a burned-out forensic pathologist) tries to calm himself by working on a tincture of saffron.

Here's the passage, from Jonathan: the first victim has been discovered, brutally murdered. Jenner, the protagonist, has been forced out of retirement to help. He's spent the last twenty hours at the crime scene and dealing with the murder victim's friends and family. He's home now, and cannot sleep:

He was wired; he needed to come down, to feel himself again. He got up and went to his desk. He opened up a mahogany case and took out a double-sealed bottle of tincturing alcohol, a glass laboratory flask and several dark vials of floral and herbal extracts.

After the whole 9/11 thing, when he finally admitted to himself that he was coping poorly, Annie bullied him into seeing one of the government-funded therapists. Dr. Rother had said it might help him to get the collection of essential oils. Jenner, amused, had bought the set, only to be amazed at how wonderful he found the small library of scents. He later explained slightly sheepishly to Rother that the oils hadn’t helped him in an aromatherapy way, but had helped him get out of his head and back into his body.

Working with the oils was a purely sensual pastime, with no goal beyond experiencing the scents. Learning to spot the different aromas, experimenting with blending extracts, observing how the scent changed as the perfume met the air provided Jenner with an almost Zen immersion in a natural, real thing: a fleeting moment of pure sensation that couldn’t be touched by burning fires or collapsing buildings, by radiation or by weaponized bacteria.

At first, he’d struggled to tell ylang ylang from jasmine, but soon he could easily separate the sweetness of jasmine grandiflorum from the heady, erotic perfume of night-blooming jasmine sambac, and before long he was discriminating between Bulgarian and Turkish extracts of the same rose species. His favorites were the grasses – hay, mellilot, flouve – the thick, coumarin scents, sweet as vanilla, made him feel as if he were lying in a field at sunset in late summer.

He decided to work on saffron. He’d once extracted a saffron essential oil, but beyond the absurd cost, the scent of the oil had been fleeting. He found a 400-year-old tincture recipe in the online archives of a society of French food historians in Beaulieu, and spent the rest of the evening experimenting at his desk. He began by gently heating diluted alcohol, then dropping three thick pinches of brick red saffron threads into the warm glass flask.

He swirled the flask, savoring the warm, buttery scent of the stamens as they swelled and turned crimson, watching the alcohol’s almost imperceptible change from gin clear to the palest of canary yellows. He dipped a test strip, clipped it to a stand, smelled it, and then methodically sniffed it and made notes during the first hour of the dry-down. After one last sniff, he closed his notebook at 1AM and put sheets on the couch.

When he turned out the light, Julie’s cat, invisible all day, slipped out from under the club chair, jumped up onto the couch to lie against him. Jenner was already asleep.


I suggest that readers also read his short story on the day *before* 9/11:
(Note to the Guild members reading this: a few months ago I wrote about Mandy Aftel co-hosting a scent/foodie event at the Napa Valley Culinary Institute of America with White House pastry chef Bill Yosses. Yes, it's the same Bill Yosses that is Jonathan's friend mentioned in this article. Such a small foodie/scent world!)

I wish Jonathan every success with this book, and my mother, who is a huge fan of this genre of writing, says the dust jacket recommendations (also on the website) come from two of the best writers in that field, so it looks like Jonathan has great cred. If you're a natural perfumer, check out his book tour schedule an perhaps drop by to say hi.