One of my most enduring memories of a year long stay in France, as an au pair, was a hot drink made from verveine, a plant we refer to as lemon verbena. It was wonderfully comforting, had a familiar lemony aroma and sugar really enhanced its flavour. So when I heard about a hand cream with that wonderful scent I just had to try it out.
Winter time is one when my cuticles have a tendency to crack, resulting in that really long period of pain. The lemon verbena hand cream has a 20% shea butter base. It’s creamy texture is easily absorbed, leaving hands soft and supple and I find especially effective when rubbed round the fingernail.
On my desk at the moment are the final contestants in my Strictly Skincare hand cream choice. I started with about 20 different products. The five are, in no particular order of preference – they are all used regularly:
Energizing Verbena Hand Cream – Panier des Sens, en Provence that comes with very pretty packaging
Morrisons Unscented Hand Cream, Concentrated – a glycerine based cream it is useful when you don’t want to wear a second scent that might conflict. It is very creamy, softening dry skin and useful to add before you start to work in the garden.
Q10 by Pharma Nord is another hand cream that conditions and protects at the same time. It contains ginkgo Biloba, Pycnogenol and Vitamin E. All ingredients considered highly beneficial by skincare aficionados.
Lotil Original is specifically designed for cold weather and I always check there is a small tube in my handbag at this time of year.
On a recent visit to The Dales I took my tube of English Weather Cream. I always use this in cold weather because my face dries out in cold windy weather and this cream works absolutely fantastically. However, it has been recently discontinued … Made by Lotil it is no longer available – such a shame. I’m looking for a replacement product and will let you know if I find one.
Wearing silk lined gloves helps to keep my hands warm and in conjunction with any one of these handcreams I’m able to keep them in good condition, safe from damaging cold weather.
All are available online but of course in store is always a good place to try them out!
Kate Campbell, Health Editor
Kate has worked with editor Val Reynolds since 1996 and they are constantly looking for top quality, effective skincare products. Do you have a favourite? Do let us know and we will pass on your recommendations.
Every year we put together a list of the products we have tried and loved over the year and include them in our Christmas List. 2012 has been a memorable year for visits, tastings and tests.
These are our favourites:
Chocolate bouquet – can’t think of anything more tempting than this astonishingly beautiful chocolate bouquet - we’re sending it as a family gift to five families who live far and wide who will be meeting up for Christmas in a country house in the Midlands. A smaller bouquet and individual flowers are also available. Utterly charming, seems a shame to eat them.
Last year we were impressed by and ordered several items from the Thompson & Morgan catalogue of bouquets and other floral gifts. This year they have added to the items on offer. All details on their website.
Booja Booja chocolate truffles are oh so yum! Organic and made by hand, we have to restrict ourselves to one each a day until the box is empty. Delicious flavours include raspberry – our absolute favourite is the Champagne Truffle … so irresistible they should be banned! Ingredients for chocolate aficionados: Dark chocolate (cocoa solids 55%, cane sugar, emulsifier, soya lecithin, vanilla, coconut oil, champagne 8%, Agave, Cocoa powder.
Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is always interesting and on our return from a two month stay in France we immediately bought a hand blender – there are lots on the market but we plumped for the Sainsbury 200K version. At the surprising price of £4.13 it does the job quite well and is good enough for soups, blending cooked fruit and vegetables. We love the flexibility of blending direct in the saucepan. Much less washing up. For slicing, chopping and making small quantities of sauce our Magimix is indispensable – it has considerably more power with well designed cutting discs.
We love our Russell Hobbs Brita Filter Kettle. Living in a hard water and limescale area, dark rings on cups and a film on coffee and tea is really noticeable and slightly unpleasant. All that disappears using this filter kettle and your tea and coffee tastes so much better too. Of course you have the ongoing expense of the filters, but we prefer that to the unpleasant effects of scale. We use the filtered water for cooking as well.
Another useful device in the French kitchen was a simple Spoon Rest. I could only search out one, in John Lewis, the Playnation Ceramic Rest costs £8. It’s big enough to hold more than one wooden spoon, it gives me less cleaning to do of food marks on the worktop. Just throw it in the dishwasher, well best not to throw … Definitely the most useful piece of kitchen kit I have come across in years.
Digital scales As I am on a calorie restricted food programme (called a diet by everyone else!) an accurate, easy to clean, set of scales is essential. Again John Lewis came up trumps and I was pleased the nicest one I found, Salter 1036 Electronic Disc Kitchen Scale, 5kg, Black only cost £12.80. It has a lot of positive reviews.
I was lucky enough to interview Stanley Kubrick’s widow, Christiane, a month or so ago to talk about her, painting, work methods and style. The feature will appear in the New Year.
Christiane was kind enough to sign a copy of the Taschen Book: The Stanley Kubrick Archives for us to offer to In Balance readers. This giveaway will appear on this website early in 2013.
The book is the first to explore Kubrick’s archives and the most comprehensive study of the filmmaker to date. It would be a must for any film buff. Reviews on the Taschen website are enlightening.
Another book we came across is Uniquely British, A Year in the Life of The Household Cavalry, written by serving officers and soldiers. The book covers events that took place during 2011 and 2012 and gives a unique insight into the background activities of a 350 year old organisation. Published to fund the launch of the Household Cavalry Foundation, a new charity to support serving soldiers, operational casualties, veterans or even their horses. Uniquely British is available direct from the publishers Tricorn Books, who presumably pay their British taxes which is more than be said about that huge organisation that sends most of its UK profits home to the US whose name begins with a capital A and from whom we assume you wouldn’t order this book. Sorry, our prejudices are showing.
OTHER Favourites to Give you Inspiration
For those who find listening to book a lifeline when driving long distance, or doing any repetitive activity like gym work, talking books might be an appropriate gift. Our recent feature gives details
George Foreman Grill – Absolutely besotted with this easy to make sandwich grill that cooks steaks to a T! Our feature gives details
Rose Oil is our absolute favourite product for facial care. From Living Nature we would never be without it!
Belleville Rendezvous – If you haven’t seen this do have a look at our feature – it’s a cartoon which is so funny and whacky yet charming and engaging.
Insect House – This is a fascinating item to attracts insects that will stay in your garden to help pollinate your fruit and vegetables. Young children love it. Our recent feature gives details.
And FINALLY, we’ve left the best until last! We spent an overnight spa stay at Whittlebury Hall. We so enjoyed this. A world class hydrotherapy centre, offering a vast range of treatments, beautiful decor, spacious accommodation, wonderful food … seriously large swimming pool, golf course, beautiful grounds to explore … You might just like to book up one of the special deals on offer up to Christmas! I took my husband who loved it … now that’s a recommendation!
Phew, I hope you find something of interest to choose as a thoughtful gift.
Good luck and the compliments of the season!
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
We always search out skincare products that don’t put unnatural chemicals on our skin and hair. Everything we write about here are our favourites, the ones we would always buy.
Now you might think there are rather a lot, but we often give some a break and then go back at a later date. This seems to work especially well with shampoo.
Tisserand have such a wonderful a range – you can see them on their website – that choosing is hard. However here are our absolute favourites:
- Intensive Hand and Nail Cream – wonderful aroma, good feel, organic and ethically harvested (As at 25 August they were offering this at a much reduced price)
- Anti-Blemish Stick – this works well on reducing redness, it’s not a cream but a tea tree oil mix easy to apply with a little stick we always have one in our bag
- De-Stress Bath Soak - this has a lavender base … need we say more!
- They also have a range of remedy roller balls, Head Clear that cools and relieves, Energise that boosts and revitalises, Focus that stimulates and invigorates, De-Stress that comforts and rebalances
- There are frequently offers – you might like to keep in touch via their newsletter.
Melvita offer a wonderful range of good quality organic, natural cosmetics not tested on animals. We love the Argan oil and use it on our face and hands in the daytime. At the moment the website is offering free samples … worth a look if you are really interested in top quality products. We notice they have added three new hydration products that soften and plump up your skin. Must try the narcissi fragrance! They also have a newsletter you can subscribe to.
Living Nature have a fabulously scented night oil containing rose and rosehip oil together with calendula to aid the regeneration process. This together with their firming flax serum, which we absolutely love, make a great combination to help reduce lines and wrinkles. Uniquely New Zealand the range is available on their website. To find your nearest stockist go to their website
It’s not easy finding a paraben and aluminium free deodorant and after a bit of a search we found Bionsen, a roll-on product, containing no alcohol – another ingredient some skins object to. Made with Japanese spa minerals it’s widely available, look out for it in Boots, Sainsburys, Tesco for instance, or even buy from their own website.
Nelson’s Arnicare bath and massage balm worked wonders for us when we had a remedial massage recently. Pleasantly scented it melted into our skin and relieved our aches and pains. We’ve used it since on different occasions and were pleased with the results. With an intriguing list of ingredients, free from parabens, lanolin, mineral oil, SLS’s and PEGs, we think it will please those looking to relieve their aches and pains, try it in the bath … wonderful!
More information about Arnicare. Available in Boots, Holland & Barrett and online.
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
Travelling by air involves the extra anxiety of luggage allowances, especially in-cabin items, and hefty financial penalties. Dimensions are easy to check, but weight? How many times have you weighed yourself, then held your bag/s to see the extra weight – can you see over the edge of the bag? Is the reading accurate? The good news is I have come across a device that makes that situation history.
The Baggage Scale:
Has no batteries
Is compact and lightweight
Weighs baggage up to 32 kg (70 lbs)
Simple to use
Only weighs 106 grams
Has a magnifying viewer
Folds away neatly for travel – useful for reweighing baggage when preparing to leave
Has no sharp metal hooks
Environmentally friendly – free of electronic waste
Kind to your back
Here’s a link to a video showing clearly how it works.
What’s not to like? Designed by an engineer exasperated by devices that simply didn’t work well enough for him, it’s so useful and we recommend it unreservedly. It’s on our Christmas gift list for all those frequent travellers we know!
We loved another video we found that demonstrates a very effective method of packing. The Benny Hill music used made us smile!
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
Most people seem to agree that finding the perfect gift for their dad is one of the least easy tasks of the year. Here are some ideas from our thoughtful team to inspire you:
Wine holiday in Oporto Built into the hillside of the spectacular Duoro Valley, The Yeatman hotel in Oporto is inspired by the celebrated wines of the region. Guests can seriously indulge themselves during the weekly wine evenings, tasting soirees and cookery courses. The extensive wine cellars hold 25,000 bottles alone and the in-house Michelin starred chef, Ricardo Costsa, is always on-hand to educate guests about food pairing. Even The Yeatman’s vinotherapy spa will be difficult for Dads to resist, as it offers a Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Bath or body scrub. Prices from €150 per night.
Failing that why not a bottle of Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2005, available from £13.79 at most retail outlets nationwide. Here is a link to information on the website
Or he might have loads of the stuff in the cupboard but may not have some luscious glasses to savour it – we would choose the beautiful Riedel Port Glasses available at John Lewis and Amazon.
How about a short holiday break for someone mad on fishing? Forget Salmon Fishing in the Yemen although a couple of tickets might go down a treat! – how about Fly fishing in the Maldives All hard-working fathers deserve peace and quiet once in a while, and you would be hard pressed to find a more relaxing and tranquil outdoor pursuit than fly-fishing. On a secluded private island in North Maldives, Island Hideaway resort boasts deepwater channels and expansive shallow flats, ideal for whiling away the hours until that longed-for catch comes along. Prices from £1350 per week during low season, and £2300 during high season. OK, so that might be a bit over the top! How about The Ultimate Guide Book to Fishing? This Google page might give ideas.
Right, nothing so far appeals? What about a luxury wet shave? Harking back to simpler times when every man had a trusty barber to see to his beard and whiskers, in London the Spa at Dolphin Square offers chaps the rare chance to pamper themselves with a range of traditional Moroccan wet shaves. Choose from the age-old Savon Noir shave, which cleanses by combining crushed olives, olive oil and Eucalyptus (£35), or go all out with a Moroccan Cleansing Ritual, incorporating a Hammam and Shea Butter Massage, followed by the relaxing shave (£104). This would appeal to many men I know so it could be a winner!
On a more basic level though why not a gift voucher from B&Q? Lots of us like browsing in DIY stores, especially new and improved gadgets!
Or why not some Ogilvy’s honey – their Balkan Linden Honey is rather special. Gathered from colonies in the Danube region of Serbia. This honey was one of four varieties of Ogilvy’s Honey to win gold stars in the 2011 Great Taste Awards organised by The Guild of Fine Food. It is rather special – you can find more information on the Ogilvy’s website.
If you live in or near London then of course you could take him for a meal – Ping Pong in Soho is excellent, The Sanderson in Berners St has a wonderful dining area as has the Lanesborough Hotel opposite Hyde Park Corner. What about some tickets to a game at The Arsenal? A visit to the House of Commons to see Parliament in action and a meal in one of the boats on the river. Or a boat trip on the Thames? Of course you could just go for a walk in Hyde Park and have something to eat in one of the many cafes in the park.
Or how about an App for his iPhone or iPad – he doesn’t have one? There’s two more ideas!
Hope you might find one of these inspiring! Good luck – you have just three days left!
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
Anyone approaching this collection of twenty-five articles, spanning over twenty years, would do well to consider Nicholls’ own observation : “ … I have always found the details of History more interesting, or anyway more evocative, than the larger perspectives of History.” Nicholls writes of real historical evidence: primary evidence, bits and pieces of detail; the reports of eyewitnesses.
His reputation as an historical detective, established by his work on Christopher Marlowe, Leonardo da Vinci and Shakespeare, is further enhanced by this essay collection. The worlds he writes of are not just brought to life. They are entirely reconstructed through his imagination, using the very evidence he refers to: the traces that remain.
As with most collections, there are some pieces which absorb less than others. There are articles which might well be classified as extended travel writing, for example. However, at least half of the pieces show his forensic skills at their finest. Shakespeare and Ben Jonson re-emerge; Nicholl takes a fresh look at Jack the Ripper; a “four in a bed” scandal, involving visiting Frenchmen, from 1613 is re-examined; and he asks what really happened to the famous English alchemist who disappeared in Bohemia in the late sixteenth century.
Sometimes idiosyncratic, but always highly readable, the bulk of this collection both entertains and satisfies.
Traces Remain by Charles Nicholl Published by Allen Lane ISBN : 978 0 713 99494 0
Reviewed by Les Tucker Les enjoyed a teaching career in Further and Higher Education, moving from English to leading a Drama and Performing Arts Department. He studied Spanish History at University and still lists History as one of his main interests. He has never stopped being a trainspotter and wears his anorak with pride. His other sources of pleasure, if not profit, are the Turf, the British brewing industry and experimental theatre. Les is a scriptwriter and drama examiner. He describes himself as an omnivore where books are concerned.
We love chocolate. Not the sweet, cloying stuff you can buy in big bars, made using all kinds of ingredients and added chemicals.
Oh no. We love dark, dark chocolate often referred to by is percentage cocoa solids. One such is the Divine 70% Dark Chocolate with Ginger and Orange. Suitable for vegetarians and carrying the Kosher mark, it is available in Sainsburys nationwide and online £1.69.
Divine chocolate is only made with the best Fairtrade cocoa beans from Kuapa Kokoo, a coopertive of smallholder farmers in Ghana. Many of you will know all about Divine chocolate, but have you noticed the brand new Christmas gift boxes – dark chocolate disks with mint, and dark chocolate with raspberry.
The raspberry taste is really fantastic, the aroma is enticing and the taste confirms your wise decision to eat it!
All the chocolate is free from artificial flavourings, preservatives and colourings.
Available from Waitrose, Booths, Liberty of London and Oxfam. RRP £4.50
The other Divine chocolate allowed in the house – not much is because we just eat it until it has gone and then we feel rather guilty – is the 70% Dark Chocolate Covered Salted Fudge. This is a serious grown-up fudge, you experience a mouthful of delightful textures and tastes. Like no other fudge we have ever come across, we will have a secret stock … Only offered to those who really appreciate unusual, top quality confectionary!
A little of what you fancy does you good, with the emphasis on little, we were intrigued with the Cocktail Bitters Traveller’s Pack. This little box contains tangy aromatic bitters with hints to cinnamon, cardamom, anise and cloves, gingerbread aromas perfectly suited to drinks based on spirits like Whisky, Rum, Brancy and Tequila. We made up several cocktails Manhattan Cocktail, Dry Martini Coctail, Brandy Cocktail, Bloody Mary and Old Fashioned Cocktail. All went down a treat with no particular favourite emerging … After trying all five! It was fun making up these wellknown cocktails and kept us entertained for an evening. These bitters come in a neat metal container, ideal if you want to make and enjoy your own cocktails when away without paying what are sometimes extortionate prices. Unusual liqueurs are also available to liven up things: Apricot Liqueur, Pimento Dram, Violet Liqueur for instance and of course Sloe Gin with tonic. Have you ever tried Sloe Gin with champagne? Do try it, lovely on a hot summer’s afternoon. More information and cocktail recipes on the website.
We also came across Abelha Organic Cachaça, a very unusual spirit made from fresh sugar cane with no pesticides nor artificial fertilisers, fermented with natural yeasts, and aged in native ash barrels. Find out more about this most unusual spirit from Brazil on www.abelha.co.uk.
While on the subject of the unusual, we have been trying Harveys Bristol Cream served over ice with a slice of orange. Rather good, and then, for the purpose of making sure Aunt Aggie is fully catered for, we have tried drizzling Harveys VORS Pedro Ximénez 30 y.o. over creamy vanilla ice cream. This is just fantastic. With any luck you might have some over for Boxing Day … Although we have the suspicion that it won’t last. It was absolutely fab. Do try some. There are more suggestions and cocktail tips on the Harveys website www.harveyshalfhour.co.uk.
And finally we tried a Funkin Mixer – Strawberry Woo Woo with a shot of vodka. This was so well received we had to fight off the staff. One swig and they were hooked! We had to promise to get some for our office get together on Friday. When we found the order line we were hard pressed to choose which ones, in the end we chose a Party Pack so everyone will be happy – especially on Friday.
Wishing you good fun with your Festive Spirits!
Val Reynolds Brown
This product is a bit like turkish delight, full of promise and seemingly a godsend for parents with children when urgent reliable repairs to equipment, toys and ‘stuff’ are needed. Probably most useful during the summer months when kids are outdoors using playthings, now is a good time to stock up.
Tear-Aid is a transparent, water- and airtight patch which can instantly and permanently repair tears or holes in paddling pools, lilos, sun shades and even bicycle inner tubes. Between them they can fix tears in almost anything – from tents to beach toys to space hoppers! The patches are quick and easy to use – simply cut to size, peel and stick with no glue or mess. Each repair can last for years, saving you money on costly replacements and keeping the kids entertained all through the summer.
There are two types available – an all-purpose fabric patch and another designed specifically for vinyl products. Tear Aid patches are made from exceptionally tough, matt, abrasion resistant material that resists punctures and tearing. It is designed to provide a strength to a variety of surfaces such as canvas, leather, rubber, nylon, most plastics, paints, aluminium, stainless steel, fibreglass, polyurethane, polyethylene, polypropylene, vinyl and vinyl coated.
Tear Aid type A (fabrics) and Tear Aid type B (vinyls) provide a simple and easy method of patching holes and tears as well as an excellent protective film solution.
An ideal stocking/tree present.
For more information or to buy, visit http://www.tear-aid.co.uk/or call sales on 01889 270 663.
Katie Goodshaw, harassed parent and occasional contributor to In Balance Magazine