Making a Medusa Headdress

Medusa headdressI got it in my head that I had to have this headdress. Who wouldn’t want to be the Medusa? Great for Halloween, fun for a winter hat. Great idea. It was by a woman called Ruth From Ohio. She gives the instructions BUT she has a knitting machine. I knit once every 17 years. This is going to be a slight problem. I think that I need to knit a watch cap and then cover it with the snakes. Yea that’t the ticket. So, I buy the yarn and start knitting snakes. I don’t know how to knit. That does not stop me. There were instructions and a clue, the clue was that this could be an “I Chord” for the snakes. I Chord? I Google, I find it. AKA and Idiot Chord…this is going to be easy.

It’s going to snow. In Cincinnati that means we are all going to die. OK, I go out and buy all the groceries at Fresh Thyme. Then I go to Joanne Fabrics on the way home and buy two skeins of camo yarn, the double ended needles and I am set.

The snow comes
We get about 5″
Are We Dead?

Not dead, but it’s slick out there. I stay home and do computer work. I shovel the snow. I make dinner. Then I start playing with the yarn.

I start on one snake. I am I Chording along. Learning. The snake looks very serpentine due to the camo yarn. I am enchanted. I learn how to make the snake wider in the jaw, and narrow at the snout. I finish the first snake. He looks a bit lumpy, some of the knitting is too loopy. His scale pattern is a bit off BUT HE WORKS! Can’t have everything perfect off the bat. We are in business. I start snake #2. going much better. He is looking Pretty Good.

We watch House of Cards
I work though it snows
The snake grows.

Now I do the cap upon which to attach the snakes. Friends, I get the idea I will need about 50 snakes. I am finished with 1.5.

Snakes might have to have pipecleaners in them to make them writhey.

I have an idea of how I want it to look.

Moar later.

This blog is brought to you by Possets Perfume which is featuring The Deep Winter Collection now. Musks, resins, florals (tis the season), foodies and the new category Dry. Peep in on the ever changing offerings at Possets.  So, click here and go exploring!


What Do I Do With The Retired Possets?

Musks not tusks.One of my clients asked me what I do with the Possets that have to retire and are not chosen to be part of the Permanent Collection. Good question, here is the answer:

Dear XXXX-You asked me what I do with the retired Possets after their Collection comes down. …Here is the answer. About two years ago, I realized I had run out of space in my office for all of the retired Possets. I looked around my neighborhood (which is a place where they do a lot of light manufacturing) and there was a climate controlled storage company fairly close. I boxed up the retired Possets and rented a space and they are kept there in the dark at the same temp until they are brought back at Retour. At Retour, I have to rent a bit more space to set up alphabetically, I bring back all of the retired Possets from storage and start filling orders. Everything gets smelled before it goes to you, and if anything has gone “off” or is past its prime or has weakened, I stop and remake the blend. Most of the time, the oils just get better with age.

At the end of Retour, everything is packed up and re-stored to wait for the next Retour. As you know, Retours happen on a whim and have no schedule. They last for 2 weeks and are a real madhouse during that time. We have not had a Retour for about two years now. The name Retour comes from the French, “to return”. I hope that answers your question. It was a good one. Fondly, Fabienne

This blog is brought to you by Possets Perfume which is featuring The Deep Winter Collection now. Musks, resins, florals (tis the season), foodies and the new category Dry. Peep in on the ever changing offerings at Possets.  So, click here and go exploring!


Spikenard-The Anointment Of The Magdalene

Orientals ImageToday marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. It is Ash Wednesday and with it comes quite a few arcane rituals involving unusual items, many of them scented. One of the most famous of all the Lenten perfumes is spikenard.

Spikenard became famous because Mary Magdalene brings an entire jar of it to Jesus and in front of all, she anoints his FEET with a small fortune of it! Spikenard was hideously expensive because it comes only from the Himalayas (Nepal in particular) so you can imagine how drawn-out and dangerous a trek it was to get it from the foot of Mount Everest to the Levant. It is distilled from the root of a valerian-like plant, much like vetiver.

That is all fine and well, but the question you might be more interested in is: how does it smell? I decided to find out what Spikenard was like, being a perfumer, and bought a small sample from one of my natural suppliers. Sure enough, it was from Nepal; and, as usual, I was in a tearing hurry and dabbed some on the back of my hand to make my snap judgment of it. “UR-BALL” was my disappointed conclusion. After running it under my nose I was utterly unimpressed. “Maybe it was wonderful back in the old days when no one could wash much, your clothes stuck to you, and everyone was pretty poor and could not afford anything but the cheapest perfumes. We are so much more sophisticated now, thank goodness,” I thought disparagingly. I put the little vial of herb smelling goo away.

Today, because it is Ash Wednesday, I thought I would give spikenard another try. I had opened my naturals cabinet and the vial was lying on its side waiting for me. I took off the top, put a small amount on the back of my hand, recorked it and thought,”There HAS to be something alluring about this stuff. It was just too expensive to be ho-hum herbal,” I sat at the keyboard waiting for some magic to happen.

Then I forgot about the spikenard and got busy answering my e-mails and trying to fix the usual little bugs which infest my software. And all of a sudden I got a whiff of something WONDERFUL. It was, well, divine. It was green, surely, but there was a particle of cumarin to it (a greenish vanilla), then there was a definite tinge of men’s very expensive hair pomade. There was something about it very masculine, and a stinky little backlash which some people find fetching, so it could go from: feet–>mint–>green vanilla—>green–>expensive pomade–>dense green boxwood bushes where a handsome man has just walked. To find all this beauty, one had to be quiet, one had to be aware, and the oil had to be rubbed on your skin and heat up to combine with your chemistry and then this fabulous fragrance would erupt, spread, and stay on you. It seems to be a base note, it lingers for hours. It is very mutable, it changes from the moment you breathe in, as the vapors fill your sinuses, as the apex of your breath occurs, on the start of the exhale, and the end of the exhale. This is pretty constant, each breath brought the change-wheel of spikenard.

I must say that now I am in love. I think it would make a wonderful companion with galbanum. I just have to tear myself away from this shimmering green jewel long enough to compose something.

This blog is brought to you by Possets Perfume which is featuring The Deep Winter Collection now. Musks, resins, florals (tis the season), foodies and the new category Dry. Peep in on the ever changing offerings at Possets.  So, click here and go exploring!


Vanilla Blog #3-Different Vanilla Characteristics

Sex in HeavenThere are many vanillas which retain the character of vanilla but exhibit special traits of their own and that is what makes modern perfumery: the control of these subtle twists of a basic scent.

Real vanilla has often been considered a base note in natural perfumery, but artificial vanillas are used more like a middle note in general fragrance.

There are a lot of different vanilla components in perfumery, it is one of the most varied elements. Here are a few with an example from Possets Perfumes to illustrate the point:

  • “Fat” Vanillas-these have a buttery untious element to them. “The Girls Love Vanilla” is one of those.
  • “Thin” Vanillas-more of a sharp or woody element to them. “Candy Thong” exhibits that characteristic.
  • “Musky” Vanillas-combination of a musk with a vanilla to make the scent of vanilla last longer than a mere middle note usually does. “301” is a good example.
  • “Metallic” Vanillas-usually have the tang of brass about them. “Perpetual Motion Machine” is one, and it is a highly unusual use for vanilla but one which can be unforgettable in the right context.
  • “Dark” or “Black” Vanilla-thick and strong but with a bit of musky shapness to them. “Dangerous Oil” is that kind of vanilla.
  • “Fruity” Vanilla-these have a part ot thesmell which reminds you of a specific fruit. The vanilla I used in “Sex in Heaven” always made me think of coconut. I paired it with coconut and a few other things and I do think it turned out very well indeed.
  • “Boozy” Vanilla-as the name implies this vanilla has a strong liquor character with helps it “push” it out into the atmosphere like volatile liquor. “Cri de Coeur” is probably the purest example of that in my collection.

As an aside, Bourbon Vanilla has nothing to do with the liquor, it was the name of the island from which it came, Ile Bourbon. The name of that island was later changed to Reunion Island, and that is what it is known as today. However, the product is still referred to as “Bourbon Vanilla”.

Real Vanilla and Faux Vanilla

vanilla orchidIn the last installment, I talked about real vanilla which is made from the processed seed pods of the vanilla orchid. However, there is a huge market for the cheaper and more plentiful imitation vanilla. Vanilla taste and odor can be extracted from wood! It is one of the many flavors and fragrances we get from papermaking.

Producers are looking for vanillin in the wood pulp and they extract that for artificial vanilla flavor. In addition to vanillin, another of the wood-based ingredients of that vanilla smell is “heliotropin”, a compound named after the beautiful purple flower, heliotrope. This is what produces the well loved vanilla scent.

There are other compounds which mimic the scent of real vanilla, and even outdo it for attractiveness. One of these is coumarin, a plant derivative which not only smells like a green vanilla in masstone but can be used in tasks as diverse as rat poisoning and medicine to counteract bloodclots! Coumarin is found in 42 plant, notably the tonka bean where it smells like flavored tobacco thanks to the impurities found in the bean. Tonka, by the way, used to be a very popular flavoring agent in America, but it was banned because it can cause liver disease and excess blood thinning (like a temporary hemophilia).

If you go to the store and compare the price of vanilla vs. artificial vanilla, you will see a huge difference. That is because real vanilla depends on the hand labor of a lot of workers to bring to market, and artificial vanilla has a much more automated process.

heliotropeArtificial vanilla has a much less raw scent and taste than even expensive real vanilla. Flavor specilists have learned to bring out only the most attractive aspects of vanilla and leave the more character-laden parts behind. So the taste and scent have been engineered to be more attractive.

Combine that with what I consider to be a tendency to remain stronger when exposed to heat (as in baking) and it’s no wonder that artificial vanilla has become immensely popular.

Just as a challenge, get a bottle of real and a bottle of imitation vanilla and put them side by side and smell. You might be quite surprised.

Here is a tip, if you are a person who prefers to use real vanilla extract in cooking: put vanilla in at the last minute before then finish of the recipe. Let it be exposed to the least amount of heat possible and it will retain its flavor far better.

Vanilla-What is it?

This is the first of a short series about everyone’s favorite flavor, vanilla.

Vanilla originally came from Mexico. It was discovered Native Peoples and then the Spaniards (who started trading it to the Old World and generated a huge market for it along with chocolate, another Mexican New World good).

The name, vanilla, comes from the female body part and it is named that because of its resemblance. Vanilla is made in the seed pod of the vanilla orchid. The pod is picked and often stored in a closed box until the characteristic flavor and smell develop. You get vanilla flavoring from splitting open the cured seed pods, and scraping out the tiny seeds and pulp from the inside. The sticky paste and seeds are often blended with alcohol to make vanilla extract. It is a time consuming process, as is the pollinating of the flowers which is normally done by hand as well. In the wild a certain species of bees performs the job of pollination but vanilla is grown in areas without those sorts of bees so growers have had to resort to the hand pollinating method.

Vanilla is grown in Mexico (considered the best quality), Tahiti, and Madagascar most famously. It is considered the most popular flavoring agent in the world and is highly prized in perfumery.