What on Earth have you been doing?

Drinking tea and eating crumpets!

It might look like it, but it has not been a quiet time here at Shanghai Lil & The Scarlet Fez! I am not the most organized person, so all of my ideas and plans always take a lot longer to come to fruition than those of...EVERYONE else!

So what have I been doing? I've been re-formulating our lipbalms, organising new signage, (by the talented Magic Jelly, of course!) tweaking some of our recipes and making a ton of soap. We have some big markets coming up in August, which I'm really looking forward to. I miss the face to face contact with customers and those chances to show people our products up close. There will be more on the above over the next month or two.

We have introduced a couple of new retailers too. Welcome to the lovely folk at The V-Spot (an online vegan beauty and fashion retailer) and Style House Designs in Aldgate. 

But of course, I have ensured that I have time to relax and think. While doing all this relaxing and thinking, I've been drinking Prince of Wales tea from Leaf Tea, a small (and cute) supplier in Geelong. I haven't had Prince of Wales for ages - I used to drink it a lot in the 80s, before everyone was born. Also purchased in Geelong, a copy of Chandler Burr's 'The Emperor of Scent'. I haven't had a chance to start that yet, but I'm looking forward to getting into it. 

We are also in the midst of some major renovations at chez Shanghai and you'll be shocked to hear that this is stressful! But boohoo me, once it's over, I'll have plenty of space for my supplies and products! Also, more room for tea paraphernalia, books and things.

So, big things are coming for us at Shanghai Lil & The Scarlet Fez, and we're getting ready for it, fueled by tea!



A new soap

I have just released a new soap, Winterfield.   I love coming up with new soap ingredient or essential oil combinations and with this soap, I chose to go for a classic Mediterranean scent, lavender and rosemary.  As I was releasing the soap in winter, I wanted it to have a 'comforting' feel, so I used extra rich and creamy oils including avocado, apricot kernel and hemp seed oils, to achieve a lovely smooth lather - perfect to counter the drying effects of a hot shower.   Winterfield is gently coloured with green clay.

So, please feel free to visit the store to purchase some Winterfield of your own.  Otherwise, you can follow my Facebook page (you may wish to select the setting to receive all of my notifications as otherwise you may find Facebook is something of a brat, not liking to share everything it should) to keep up to date with which markets I'll be at and when.

Winter's Last Hurrah

...out on a rainy night

I was sitting at my desk sorting through some old photographs and there was a box of Smokey Joe sitting on a pile of books next to me.  The soft smokey scent of cade and vetiver reminded me of the smell of tobacco pipes, overcoats, old port and the sound of distant trains clickety clacking over the tracks on a cold, silent night.  Of course, I thought of this gentleman.  A found photo of a young man taken somewhere in Germany in the early 30s, it is so atmospheric with his face wonderfully lit by the dim street-lights.  Moody and melancholy.

Feel the mood with Al Bowly singing Bie Mir Bist Du Schoen:


Vegan Chai Tea

A Spicy Treat for Daydreamers

I think I have purchased every available brand of chai tea on the market.  Our tea cupboard is packed with boxes of chai tea - and you can tell which ones we like; the empty ones.   So I decided to make my own.  I initially had visions of me at my day job spending hours in the kitchen slowly preparing spices and heating them up on my own portable cooking element, but they're on to me already.  So, home preparation is the go.  

I purchased some heat sealable teabags.  Most of these I will use to infuse oils with herbs for the soaps I make, but here is another use.  Of course, a mesh tea-ball will do, I just chose the bag because some of the spices will be powdered and I didn't want too much sediment in the final brew (you can always let it settle and just avoid serving the last bit, if you are strong-willed).

My partner and I went to Gaganis Bros on the weekend (if you don't know what this is, it's a magnificent, no, glorious, food wholesaler in Hindmarsh, Adelaide) and we bought up big on spices.  

So, I don't really have a recipe, I just judged from my own preference for spices how much I would like in a brew for two (say that in a Toorak accent), so I can suggest this:

1 half teaspoon of ginger powder (fresh is better, no doubt, but I chose this because I thought about making up bags to use at other times, so dry ingredients would obviously be better)
4 cloves
2 whole star anise pods
1 half teaspoon of cardamon seeds
1 half teaspoon of cracked black pepper
5 whole pimento (all spice)
3 quarters of a teaspoon of cinnamon powder (I could only find sticks in kilogram bags, so powder had to do)
4 teaspoons of black tea (the stronger the better)

Put the spices in a mortar and give them a few grinds with a pestle.  If you don't have a mortar and pestle, pounding the spices in a plastic bag with something hard might work!

Tip the contents and the black tea into the teabag.   At this point, I also added a piece of orange peel.  Iron the open side of the bag to seal it shut.  And there you have your chai teabag.

In a small saucepan, I heated a mug's worth of water and a mug's worth of soy milk.  To this, I added the teabag, two teaspoons of homemade vanilla essence (thanks to a lovely Christmas gift) and a couple of tablespoons of vegan cream.  The vegan cream comes from a simple recipe my friend Karena (Magic Jelly) has graciously shared on her site and consists of cashews, soy milk and canola oil.  It is super easy to make and is very versatile, as the recipes on Karena's site explain.  The addition of vegan cream takes the chai to another level, but it really is optional.

Illustrated above, the spices, the cream, the vanilla essence and the tea bag.

I was fortunate enough to be presented today with a dozen vegan coffee cakes, again, courtesy of Karena.  She has the recipe on her site and this is a modified version from a recipe for East Coast Coffee Cake found in Vegan Brunch.  Delicious.

Making the chai teabag took about 10 minutes including clean-up, so it's an easy and worthwhile treat for lazy Sundays.

A New Soap for Spring

Spring Sherbert

Winter is the season of indulgence.  It's also the time to plan - it's about anticipation.  You know what is just around the corner - SPRING!  Well, it's months off yet, but it's good fun planning ahead.  Dust off those gardening books, get out those holiday brochures, buy a ridiculously lightweight and cheerful shirt online.  

Avid readers of this blog (!) will remember I made a batch of Spring Sherbert a couple of weeks ago.   You know the one - it was brimming over with olive oil, apricot kernel oil and cocoa butter and it was scented with a floral dreamcloud - or lemongrass and lavender essential oils to be precise (for those more practical types).  The soap appears to be a modest little number, a soft and creamy yellow like the finest alabaster, but it fizzes with springtime joy when you smell it.  Yes, I love it!  And this is what Spring Sherbert is doing today:


A Winter's Day - Love Lies Bleeding

On this cold winter's day, have I been lying on the couch under a blanket eating crumpets and reading Tennyson?  No!  I've been making another batch of what I can now call an old time favourite - Love Lies Bleeding.

In making this soap, I have not been content with using just olive oil, I have added olive pomace.  Olive pomace is a low-grade olive oil in terms of cooking, but in terms of soap-making, it means a concentrated boost of olive goodness.  Olive is a wonderful oil for soaps, and I always use it as a big part of any soap mixture.  It produces a firm bar of soap, which makes it better value, and is very gentle on your skin.

I have also used meadowfoam seed oil.  The skin loves this oil as it is highly emollient, leaving your skin moisturised.    Apricot kernal oil is rich with vitamins E and A and matches your skin's sebum, meaning your skin will drink it in!  Topping off this trilogy of extra-luxurious oils is rosehip oil, bursting with vitamin C (though, to be fair, vitamin C isn't much of a stayer, so it's not likely you'll see much of this once it is in a soap!), anti-oxidants and omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids - in other words, one of the best skin friendly oils you're likely to come across!

I've used mineral colourings, as usual, in this batch; the swirl being a rich earthy red.  Scented with rose, rose geranium and geranium essential oils, the soap is lively, sweet and, I must say, thoroughly romantic.  This is a great skin-conditioning soap.  Here are some sneak previews for you - the colouring and essential oils, the soap mix, the poured soap and a Holga photograph of roses to put you in the mood!

Winter Long Weekend

We're having a lovely, sunny (off and on) long weekend and the garden is looking lovely.  The lawn is covered in golden leaves and the violets are in full bloom.  I have a bit of a crush on violets, but it's nothing to be alarmed about. 

Every June long weekend there is a large book-sale held in Norwood and I went this year non-nonchalantly thinking I'll buy nothing, but furtively ensuring I had sufficient cash in my pocket on the off-chance - you know what it's like.  Well, needless to say I came away with some beauties.  I love the cover of 'Try Nothing Twice' by Frank Clune (published 1946):

I also purchased a tatty old copy of the much sought-after 'Handbook of the Destructive Insects of Victoria' Part 1 by C. French (published 1890).  Have a look at the illustrations and endpapers montaged below:

And finally, an illustration from 'Modern Illustration, its method and present conditions' by Joseph Pennell (published 1898): 

Happy with my booty indeed!  The books, I mean.  And, to prove to you how lovely the garden is, here's a short harinezumi film taken from a worm's eye:

Prone to Hyperbole

It's raining.


Ok, so it hasn't flooded like it did in Venice in December 1968 and we don't have to walk on a 'passarele' to cross the road, but it's wet. 

Nothing to do but make soap, drink soup and listen to this:


Photos part of the Shanghai Lil & The Scarlet Fez private collection.

The Emperor's Chai

So, it's the first day of winter and looking out of my window at the dark grey skies and glistening puddles I never doubted it for a second.   I've already brushed off the tweed and corduroy, brought the cashmere scarves to the front of the wardrobe and stocked up on Yorkshire Tea.  Winter, I'm ready.  Well, that's not quite true as I found out in yesterday's rain when my small umbrella with the broken arms just wasn't cutting it.  The poor thing looked like a screwed up ball of paper on a stick.

Coming home in the rain, armed with muffins, tomatoes and cheese, I was welcomed by the scent of the new soap I had made during the week.  The Emperor's Chai is a warm and delicious concoction, full of the gingery spicy smell of cardamon.  It looks good too, with a creamy caramel swirl.  I packed this beauty with cocoa butter, macadamia oil and pine nut oil, so it will have a silky smooth and luxurious lather.

Of course, I don't need to add that this soap is totally natural.  It will be in Shanghai Lil & The Scarlet Fez's store soon.