Paule kindly invited me to participate in an "Atélier de Cuisine Cosmétique" at her place Monday (that is to say, a workshop on cosmetic cooking, i.e., the hand-making of cosmetic products). The workshop was led by Christine, the proprietor of de Marseille et d'ailleurs, a lovely shop in the second arrondissement full of natural and artisanal cosmetic products.
We all slipped on our crisp checkered aprons and pulled up chairs at the big table in the middle of the room which was loaded up with everything we would need -- essential and vegetable oils, fragrances, beeswax, butter (shea and cocoa, that is), and some other goodies.
Just looking at all of them I had a perfect flashback to being a little girl and monkeying with all the containers on the shelves in the bathroom cabinet. Everything so official, and grown-up, and particular. And so heavy. More products were packaged in glass, I think, back in the day. Or maybe everything is heavy to a small child.
One thing is for sure: those glass jars and bottles will make a lot of noise if one of them slips out of your hands and into the sink. And you will get into a lot of trouble if you are caught playing in the medicine cabinet.
So even though the sight of all those tiny jars on Monday morning filled me with a familiar sense of covetousness and curiousity, I was in fact there expressly to play with them. So in that regard it felt much more like being at summer camp.
As we sipped our tea, Christine explained (but not too much) a few principles. Our first project was to make a cold cream, Cérat de Galien. (In Latin: ceratum galieni.) The original recipe dates from the second century, and was a mixture of grease and water. (Mmmm, grease. Doesn't it make you feel prettier just thinking about it?) The recipe we were working with on Monday in fact dates back to the middle ages, in what we would have to call a radical modernisation of the first one.
In a bain marie (a water-bath, which is like a double-boiler, only not like a double-boiler) we each melted some beeswax into one of several kinds of vegetal (not vegetable, as you will see in the next sentence) oil, depending on our skin type. I used apricot oil.
Once the beeswax melted into the oil, we began whisking in, a drop or so at a time, a certain amount of floral extract. In my case, rose water. There is no appreciable change at first. Just a lot of whisking and dripping and whisking. But then, there is a critical moment where the oil goes from translucent to opaque, and then yet another when it becomes considerably thicker. That magic moment, i.e., emulsion, is known to all who have ever (successfully) made mayonnaise or added a bit of mustard to salad dressing.
(Additionally: holding onto a miniature whisk and stirring in the form of a figure-eight is harder on your hands than it sounds. I tried switching from my left hand to my right, but that only threatened to up-end my work onto my lap. Which is why my hands, in the photo, are clasped, not in prayer, nor in an effort to stay in shape for upcoming shadow-puppet shows, but rather in an attempt to uncramp the heel of my hand.)
To this mix we added vitamin E (anti-oxidant friend to all), and, again, depending on our skin type, an essential oil. Mine was of immortelle d'italie (Helicrysum italica, also known as the Curry Plant). A few drops of grapefruit seed oil as an anti-microbial agent and that's that. !00% non-dairy cold cream.
We simply added together several oils (sesame, sweet almond, and hazelnut), a bit of vitamin E oil, some squalane (an olive-based emollient), and a bit of fragrance (cocoa, in this case). Then, as instructed, we shook it "comme une malade" -- literally, like a madwoman. We then had a mix of mica powders to choose from -- beige, pink, and white --- to put in the sparkle quotient.
A bit more of shaking it like a crazy lady, and the result was a very slinky-feeling body oil with just a suspicion of shimmer in it. "Très discret," we all agreed. And because we used cocoa for fragrance, as opposed to coconut, it has a nice restraint to it. Paule, who is on her way to Spain for vacation, says she will wear it when she goes out at night. I, however, will not be seen in the hotspots of Ibiza. But dang it all, I will find some place to sparkle. However discreetly. Maybe the boardwalk in Santa Cruz. Maybe while I am screaming -- discreetly, I can only hope -- on the Giant Dipper at the boardwalk in Santa Cruz.
As for the Cérat de Galien. I have been using it every night. It goes on smoothly -- all that figure-eight whisking weren't for nothing -- though it feels more oily than creamy. It does smell a bit like curry. But I like it. And of all the bottles and jars in the medicine cabinet back at home in the fifth (of which, I am not ashamed to say, there are a few) these ones are the most special. Because they are 100% all-mine.
de Marseille et d'ailleurs
1, passage du Grand Cerf
01 45 08 46 87