2019 – A happy new year to you

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A very happy New Year folks! As the new year unfolds with usual spiritedness, I wanted to reflect a bit on 2018, the year I started this blog. For that very reason, 2018 was special. When I started it I was not sure if I’d do justice to the blog and keep it alive. But I have pleasantly surprised myself. These blog posts that are up here have been a testament of some planning and prioritizing from my side. It was easy to simply give up sometimes and say that I am busy or that I have to write my other blog, but I persevered. And the credit for that goes to all those of you who have given your likes and comments to my posts and who have read a few and moved on. My heartfelt thanks.

2018 saw Sucrose reaching her 3rd year. And when I carry her sleeping form from the sofa to the bedroom inhaling the scent of her hair, feeling her soft skin against mine, I rue of the time passing by. It reminds me crushingly of such year ends marking the death of infanthood and babyhood…and soon toddlerhood. She’s heavy now, but she loves it when I cradle her or pick her up. How soon will it be before even that goes?

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2019 promises to be big for us. Sucrose will be leaving her much loved Montessori school for regular schooling. I am yet to face the stress of admissions, interviews and her settling in. I feel as nervous as a mom who has a child writing board-exam :P. That queasiness aside, I am looking forward to her forging a new path and making the next school her own.

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2019 also will be the year when  single-use plastic was getting banned. This is a first! I am super excited and very positive about this ban, as it matches my ideology. I have taken baby steps towards using environment-friendly, organic products in my daily life, but I have not given much thought towards use of plastic. I do have the right intention but I am never serious about it. I have long since started carrying my own steel water bottle, have stopped asking for plastic cutlery while ordering food, have used more glass containers and steel ones instead of plastic, use bamboo toothbrush instead of plastic ones and such. But I always have trouble carrying my cloth bag to buy vegetables and so end up bringing them in plastic bags. I of course re-use all of them mainly as garbage bin liners but it is not an ideal situation and it doesn’t match my ideal. This year, I hope to get serious about the plastic ban and embrace an environmental friendly lifestyle earnestly.

This year I hope to write more and be more consistent, probably trying to post every Friday. Fingers crossed that my goal doesn’t die a sad death as the quote written below.

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Ah well, let’s cross that bridge when it comes. 😀

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As with every new Year, I realize, my dreams are fresh and intentions serious and everything seems to be within my grasp. But would it all materialize…remains to be seen. Wish me luck!

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Once again, a happy New Year to all and here’s wishing this gyan reaches you with the promise of new beginnings, just like this dried up plant in my balcony pushed up a robust, green shoot up from the ground against all odds… and just as every new year should. :–)

 

 

 

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Mitti Se Handcrafted Soap – Review

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Mitte Se Green Tea Walnut handcrafted soap is what I use for Ana kutti. My go to soap generally is Rustic Art, a review of which I had given here. But sometimes when Big Basketdoesn’t have stock of Rustic Art, I go for Mitti Se. I like the soap a lot but Sucrose likes Rustic Art better.

Mitti Se goes one step ahead of Rustic Art and gives me an exfoliation scrub in a regular soap. SO when I have to clean her dirty foot/heel, the rough walnut layer really helps. Needless to say it is not popular with Ana for that very reason. But I am getting ahead of myself here. Let’s start at the beginning.

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Why Mitti Se?

I like their vision of creating products that are Earth friendly and safe on skin. They are clear about keeping their products as close to the natural ingredient used by minimizing processing of the product. I love that! Its as close to making a besan-haldi-curd face mask at home. Their products, they say, are alternatives to harmful chemical products that in turn harm the environment, both during manufacture and disposal.

Their products come in biodegradable packaging too, as can be seen here.

The Packaging – The soap comes packed rather attractively in a dried leaf with a wax paper inside. The pack is sealed naturally with a string tied around to hold it in place. This is very much in line with their idea of minimal disposal of their product. A big thumbs up from my end for that.

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The soap – The soap has a lovely fresh fragrance and is rather frothy. It moves easily on the skin and washes well too. The walnut scrub wears off with subsequent washes, but once before I have had it through the life of the soap. Mostly the scrub stays.yhrough the rigours of washing. It is truly a good scrub and takes away the necessity to buy another one separately. As I had mentioned earlier, it is useful in removing dead skin and dirt from Ana kutti’s tender feet without causing much trouble. But she didn’t like it much because the scrb was slightly painful.

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The soap smells of green tea and has very few ingredients, which is what makes me like it more. There is a lot of transparency in their ingredient listing. In this soap, there is green tea, essential oil of lime, walnut scrub, wheat germ oil which is good for skin firming. This soap can be used by adults, but I use it for Sucrose.

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Price – This soap costs Rs. 160/- for a 75g packet. It is definitely steep and that is why my first choice is Rustic Art, which is at Rs. 155/- for a 100g soap. But Mitti Se has all the right reasons and values and it is a good alternative to other similar soaps.

This post comes to you with a good scrub to compensate a soft, soapy bath. 🙂

Big Basket – One Stop Place for Groceries

I technically don’t celebrate Deepavali, being a practicing Muslim and S who technically should celebrate, on account of being a Hindu …doesn’t, at least not with the pomp and gaiety that’s associated with the festival. He is happy to simply have a special dosa and kootu breakfast that is made for Deepavali, followed by a brief visit to his parents where sweetmeats are exchanged. That is the length and breadth of the day for him. All that changed when I married him. First off, my dear friend P, who invites me home for lunch every Diwali since we first met, has continued the tradition even after I got married to S. So after a sumptuous aforementioned breakfast, I distribute sweets to neighbours who come bearing their own platters laden with tasty adhirasams, moti paks and murukkus. Then Sanjay and I would visit his parents and simply laze about or wonder where we could go to check out the fireworks. That simple routine changed a few years ago when our friends wanted to converge at a place where they could dress up and meet and greet and soak up the spirit of the day. They zeroed in on our place purely due to convenience. Since then we have been hosting our darling shenanigans for Diwali and I have fallen on Big Basket and Amazon to cater to my last minute Diwali purchases. And any last minute purchase before big festivals is fraught with uncertainties. There is delivery headaches and product availability problems due to surge in demand. Suffice to say that I have not had a very good experience being the novice Diwali hostess.

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This year however I planned and left all of my shopping to Big Basket. Right from their scented candles to the region- sourced sweets from their specialty stores  – I was big-basketing with elan. I have been a Big Basketeer from before Sharukh Khan sauntered into our TV sets convincing homemakers to buy monthly groceries from Big Basket. I’m happy to say that I have been a loyal customer since when their website used to sport a basic interface with household essentials and with a blank space for some of the local vegetables instead of having a picture of it. Still, I stuck to them as they had online payment, a wide variety of products in their website and brands that I generally would go to Nilgiris Supermarket to buy. I found them to be better than Grofers, which I had tried along side Big Basket and found to be a bit tedious. I had started using Big Basket when I was pregnant with Anakutti and hence was looking for easier options to shop for groceries. Amazon took care of most of my non-grocery shopping, but Big Basket was the answer for regular groceries.

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What I like:

  1. The variety – Big basket has a variety of categories to choose from. The categories like Fruits and Vegetables, Foodgrains and Organic Staples, Branded foods,  Household and Cleaning to name a few have many items under them as well. You name it, and they might just have it. They have all the main pulses and grains, branded foods like biscuits, soft drinks, cosmetics, skin care products, imported products, meat, fish,eggs and these days sweets and cakes from nearby shops. In addition they have sis so convenient to log in and shop from BB.
  2. The Easy to Use App – BB, like all the new online shopping websites is app friendly. The interface is very easily navigable and is colourful. The pictures that accompany their products are true to the what we receive. Plus they have a search support for many languages. Tamil, telugu, hindi, malayalam…it’s all there. Mostly I catch myself typing kadala paruppu for chana dal, and sure enough it is brought up in the search.
  3. Organic Products – When I made my transition to using more organic stuff in my everyday cooking and living, it was BB that had my back. I was able to pick and choose a wide variety of organic products, when they were still a novelty in the country. The early brands like 24 Mantra or Pro Nature were available easily and now BB themselves have entered the fray promising organic products from their stable.
  4. Quality – I find myself buying certain products like their Royal Rice flour (to make amazing idiyappams, idlis), Royal dals (all of them), their biriyani rice in particular. They have a no-ask return policy but I have never used it in all these years, especially in the past one year. Their products are so fresh and good and as a result translate to good dishes. I had problems with their veggies which earlier used to be so pathetic – mouldy and old sometimes. I have called their customer service and have complained. Though they dutifully return the cash back, I have never got the confidence to buy vegetables from them. That too seems to be changing now, as the few special fruits like seasonal apples, grapes, yellow banana and salad vegetables like brocolli, capsicum etc have been faultless.
  5. Delivery – It is these days difficult to get a quick delivery slot unless one opts for their express delivery for which we pay Rs. 30/- per order. But their deliveries are on time, whenever the slot and the delivery guys are all courteous and capable. Plus they deliver items free for order value above Rs. 1000/-

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This Diwali, I got items like scented candles, diyas and fairy lights to decorate my home. I ordered special sweet packs and savories from Telangana and Bangalore to be distributed to friends and close ones instead of standing in long queues outside popular sweet shops in the city. Bought a nice big pack of ice-cream for the Diwali dinner, beautiful paper napkins to go with the platters and fresh, fragrant marigold flowers for puja needs and decorations. I was blown away by the quality of the flowers – they were fragrant and fat like well fed pigeons. I was also happy with the traditional sweets I ordered from Big Basket – Sunnundalu from Pulla Reddy Sweets and laddoos from Punjabi Chandu Halwai.

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Are you a Big-basketeer yet? Do you like it?

I hope this gyan brings with it the ease  and quality that is Big Basket’s USP. 🙂

 

 

Baking Tales – Carrot Cake

After my tryst with baking bread, I felt like perfecting a nice carrot cake recipe. I know what you are thinking – as if I didn’t have enough dismal attempts at baking in my kitty. But what do I do? Much like the sometime hot sometime cool weather we have been seeing, I have been having days when I feel like whipping something up and some when I want to eat something somebody else has whipped up. Not a good proposition if you are watching your weight, I know.  And when I bake, I generally like to whip up a few tea cakes, the only ones which I seem to love these days. I am surprising myself by staying clear off heavily iced cakes, and definitely the marzipan ones.

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So this urge to make a carrot cake flared up when I got Achu Kurian’s book Cakes, Desserts and More from my club library. Though the title is very unimaginative, I was taken up by the cover of a delectable Black forest cake, and quickly brought it home to pore over. I settled for the carrot cake recipe featured in the book, resisting the desire to check a picture by picture recipe instead that is available on my favourite blogs online.

I generally like trying out recipes from cook blogs and some of my favourites are – sallysbakingaddiction (she is absolutely a Goddess for us novices), amadteaparty – I love the way she weaves a story with her baking and cooking episodes. In addition to these two I of course follow the two colossus The Pioneer Woman and Nigella Lawson. I also check a million other blogs for other cooking ideas and inspirations and am part of Home Baker’s Guild in Facebook which again is a wealth of information. Why am I writing all this? With so much inspiration and such detailed recipes available online I needn’t have had to check recipes for cakes in books. But I did and I had hoped it would work well.

So, imagine my surprise when after following the recipe somewhat to the ‘T’ the cake was dry and egg-y smelling. I was very surprised actually as I had followed the tedious steps (including whipping egg whites to stiff peaks – a job I really hate), and yet the cake was dry and lumpy. Perhaps Achu Kurian would have a reason why my cake had turned out wrong. I couldn’t get past the egg-y smell of the cake and I felt the colour of the carrot cake was too mild, not the rich orange-y one one would expect. Anyway, I was disappointed but not disheartened.

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Achu Kurian’s recipe – It was tedious and the cake was lumpy

The other day when I got some carrots in hands again, I tried Divascancook’s video on Carrot cake. Monique had termed it her Gram’s Carrot cake and I just didn’t look further, somehow feeling that if a recipe came tagged with a grandparent’s experience then it shouldn’t even be questioned. The recipe was super duper easy, and involved just simple mixing of dry ingredients together first, then the liquids together and then incorporating one into another and mixing lightly. The resultant cake was so so soft and crumbly that I had a tough time keeping my hands off it. I had to keep some for Ana kutti who I use as an excuse to bake these babies.

 

I know the pictures are crappy, but I was seriously too taken up with the aroma and the texture of the cake. I felt like a greedy cat that day. Next time, better pics. Promise.

After almost eating and enjoying  a third of the cake, I felt it would be nice to improve on its flavour if I could add a topping. This carrot cake was slightly less sweet and cakes being an indulgence should taste like one. So I browsed for a nice topping for my yummilicious carrot cake.

The most common topping I know is a cream cheese one for carrot cakes, but just then I did not have cream cheese (yep, you already know that about me…me and my impulsiveness). I did have some lovely chocolate bars and I decided to go for a chocolate ganache.

I had chanced upon a video for chocolate ganache while I was surfing for a recipe for carrot cake, and since I have been meaning to make a good ganache for sometime now I quickly made it.

It is thanks to such generous, sweet people that the internet works. The ganache was beautiful, chocolate-y, smooth and was an absolute complement to the carrot cake. I thought cream cheese was the correct topping for this cake, but the ganache seemed like a match made in heaven itself. I don’t think I took a picture of the gooey, ganache sitting prettily on the humble carrot cake… or may be I did. I just don’t remember. The only thing I do is the feeling of utter contentment and happiness when I had had that first mouthful. Oh god, just today I finished the last crumbly, sweet crumbs of the cake and promised myself of making one more so that I don’t cheat Anakutty off her last piece, like I did today.

It is recipes such as these that shakes the rational person out of me, leaving instead a this weak in the knees person who knows with every mouthful that she takes she is going to have a wicked, driven workout waiting for her.

There’s nothing rational about this post.

Yeasty Business

I made my very first bread yesterday. And though I do sound a bit nonchalant, not the least because it was dense and blah to taste, I still do have a ‘mann mein laddoo phoot rahein hain’ (golden yummy sweet exploding in me) moment. I think I felt the same when I had made my first cinnamon rolls. I love working with yeast, love the springy, stickiness of the flour and how they come about to become tender, beautiful rolls/ soft buns. Bread making is so organic. The smell of yeast baking in the oven when mixed with flour and sugar is so primal.

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I had been meaning to try Shano Biju’s recipe which people on a FB group that I am part of have raved and raved about. But the recipe had egg and fresh cream; both of those were not in my fridge and since I have been meaning to make bread for ages, I just went with the second best recipe I had filed – one from Cookingfromheart. The recipe sounded pretty do-able and I had already bought 24 Mantra’s organic wheat flour as suggested in the recipe. The wheat flour had been languishing in my pantry for months now and I didn’t want it to get too stale/ old. (But yeah, look at my conceit…trying to act so pro instead of starting from a more basic white bread recipe). Without much preamble and proper planning I just upped and started to make the bread.

The one thing you never do when you are trying a new recipe especially one that involves yeast and proper time lines is to be impulsive. Never. I should have known the recipe was doomed when I started with Shano Biju’s Tangzong method, discarded the attempt mid-way as I didn’t have fresh cream and eggs (how can I not have had eggs!!!) and then I moved to the other recipe. I had just made the yeast concoction (taken from Cookingfromheart) for the bread which had to rise for about 90 minutes, when I realized suddenly that I had to go for my yoga class. Aw the timing of it! Yes, this is about the time you can call me ‘a stuffed pot’. Duh!

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So I came back from yoga a good one hour after and attended to the bread making. Just before dashing out for the class, I kept the slurry in the fridge to prevent over rising by the yeast.  When I got back, with my brains still settled at the base of my foot, I worked at incorporating the cool slurry into the dough (every decent baker I know suggest waiting for ingredients to reach room temperature before incorporating them. I had to go and do just the opposite.) I kneaded and kneaded and could see not much give in the dough perhaps the yeast was still sleeping from its stint in the fridge. I carried on, intending to see this to its errrmm rightful end. 🙂 The wheat dough lacked that bounciness that I generally get when I do my cinnamon roll dough. But I worked at it very lovingly in fact, coaxing it this way and that.

The folding of the dough was problematic again. After giving it a good roll with the rolling pin and folding the dough as per instructions I felt like I was cramping a dead body into my bread tin. A fold appeared in the middle which never got resolved later as the bread simply did not rise!

While the baking was underway I started to feel responsible, sad that it had not hit me earlier. I actually salivated over the rich, yeasty smell that wafted out of my rickety oven. Against all odds I was curious to see how the bread would turn out. I peered in through the glass and could make out no visible top/dome and whatever was in there was languishing at the bottom of the pan as if it was in love with the base of it. I reluctantly opened the oven in between to put some butter on it for colour (as if! after the treatment I had given the dough, this was just being pitiful and childish.

Finally the bread was made in time for tea – one of my favourite times of the day to finish baking. Though it cut well, it was dense and quite bland. I definitely had to up the salt and of course, rework my whole attitude towards baking bread.

The best thing that happened yesterday however, was of feeling more confident. Earlier it was a untrodded zone, but now I had blundered in blindly and still had a dense bread as proof of my efforts. I had identified most of my mistakes. I think I would have felt particularly dejected if I had followed the recipe to the ‘T’ and had not got desired results. At least this time, I can look forward to a second better chance. The day shouldn’t be too far when I could enjoy a slice of artisan bread with its strong yeast smell and delightful flavours.

The only gyan that would be served up today here is to not follow any of the above :-D, except of course the two recipe links.

Aloe Veda – Activated Charcoal Face wash review

Looky here my dearies…look at my new swashbuckling, dirt and germ fighting absolute kicker of a face wash. I am so in love with this one that I have almost cheated on my previous one which I lovvvve a lot too.

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I am glad I hit gold where it came to taking care of my face in a gentle and organic way. Let me give you a brief idea about my skin. My skin has been a cause of my fragile confidence on my looks. While I like to consider that I am a smart looking person, my skin gives me cause to pause in the best of times. I have had acne and subsequent scarring – a result of a misguided Ayurvedic therapy. I have large open pores on my face and an oily skin to boot. As you can see below, the acne scars are far from fading and now at 39, I have started getting age spots as well.

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I had long since stopped using harsh products that end up leaving my skin feeling stretched and dry like a cloth that has come out of the washing machine. I thought that was an indication of how well the soap/ face wash did its job until recently I read that it was just the chemicals leaving that feeling. A good soap should leave your skin feeling the same as how it was before using the product, except cleaner. Most of the regular products available in the market, even Himalaya were a disappointment. Of late, I am happy with Khadi and Biotique. In fact, my previous face wash from Khadi ticked all the right boxes, but a review of that in another post.

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In an attempt to adopt a healthy lifestyle I had started choosing skin friendly, natural products and those with some social consciousness. I did not have much confidence earlier about the efficacy of these products; my general perception being what has been fed to me over the years – if it was natural, it was not too effective; much less, in combating problems that are unique to present pollution conditions.

But after using Biotique and Khadi products regularly and seeing the positive effects it has had on my skin, I have had the confidence to try other natural products too. Hence, this Aloe Veda face wash.

What I love: 

Just the label itself. It says – Activated Charcoal. This is an activated charcoal deep pore cleansing face wash. Activated Charcoal is the new hero in the block. Sanjay, my husband who has been incidental in my adopting this kind of a lifestyle has been expounding the benefits of activated charcoal for quite sometime now, and to now find that in my face wash was a huge thing for me. I am sure many good organic product brands have come up with this magic ingredient, but this is my first branded one. I have a friend who makes soaps at home and have used her activated charcoal cream to good results.

I simply loved the soap-free feel of my skin after I washed with it. The liquid is black and hardly lathers. I gently rubbed it all over my face and washed it with very minimal water. Instantly I could feel my face feeling refreshed and clean.

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About Aloe Veda Activated Charcoal Facewash: The bottle doesn’t look very aesthetic unlike other Aloe Veda products I have seen. This one looks pretty ordinary with its green cap and black body. The contents of the bottle are also black with a creamy texture. I bought it because I wanted something that targeted my oily, blemished skin. The face wash smells a bit medicinal too, but after washing my face I didn’t get any smell at all. For me, that was a plus.

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This Indian brand of personal products is inspired by Aloe vera and uses other natural products in it. This face wash is sulphate free, paraben free and has lemon peel extract in addition to activated charcoal and aloe vera. I have not picked up Aloe Veda products earlier because it was a bit expensive. But this 100ml bottle for Rs. 210 looks like good value for money.

This is a thumbs up from me.

 

Rustic Art Baby Soap – Review

How are you folks? Lazy and so-eternally-pressed-for-time Rational Mum is here again. Were it not for the rational part of an otherwise scatterbrain disposition, I don’t know how I would function at all. I have a month’s posts to catch up on, yes, and so I’ll dial into the high speed version of me and get those posts coming up.

I have been busy with my work as a Soft Skills Trainer, something that I love doing when I am not busy running around Sucrose. But that meant I was out at work, being hands on and on my feet with not a minute to really type out a creative blog. Scratch that… there has been some time in my hands but I have whiled it away with the French Open and now FIFA world Cup and Wimbledon. And then there was Ramzan in the month of May – June, which passed in quiet contemplation and fruitful self search. Soon, I realized that I was doing exactly what I advised my participants of Time Management Program against procrastination – The work you procrastinate is not your priority. And that’s why it doesn’t get done. Make it your priority today and see how things get done.

How could this wonderful blog and the other one that I write not be my priority? How had I let these blogs languish? No way was I going to let that happen. And so here I am with so many topics that I would like to write about, but starting off with a review of one of my favourite soaps to use for Sucrose.

Rustic Art was one of the first few Indian soaps, as far as I know, to foray into natural and safe on skin cosmetics. I have seen this brand around for quite sometime now. These days the market is flooded with beautiful looking, awesomely smelling soaps that are touted as being organic or herbal. And though I would love to have tried every one of them for regular use, the price was a deter and I was not completely sure of the credibility of new products. For now I was sticking to Rustic Art, because it had stuck around for sometime now. Lol.

Rustic Art Baby Soap
Rustic Art Baby Soap

I made the transition to Rustic Art after I found it difficult to buy the soap I was using for Ana kutti’s bath in her early toddler days. The soap I had used then was economincal and was the shop G Organics’ own brand. It was situated near my mother’s house in Alwarthirunagar and though they had a branch in Anna Nagar, Thirumangalam I was loathe to make the trip to get the product. I did the next best thing – surfed the internet for similar options.

Rustic Art comparatively is more easily available. It can be picked up in many organic shops and also in big supermarkets and most importantly on Big Basket. I am a huge Big Basket customer; a transition I had made when I was pregnant with Sucrose. Rustic Art has soaps for adults too, but I always buy only their kid’s version. S and I use Mysore Sandal Soap because of its high TFM. Another blog post for that.

Their USP: The need for completely natural products without harsh chemicals and synthetic colours and artificial fragrances, not to say suspended plastic globules and stuff, had this brand preparing and selling body care and home products. They also believe in supporting skilled and unskilled labour and use eco-friendly techniques to prepare their products. I got all of this from their website of course. I would have loved some more information on the people who started this and the road map to getting these products to the consumer.

The packing: Rustic Art’s Baby soap has a cloth wrapped around it with a thick orange paper that had the name of the soap and the ingredients used, on it. I of course initially marked it to clever marketing, because it was pleasing to the eye and the cotton cloth was a eco-friendly substitute to paper. I was impressed. This, however, also adds to the final cost of the product I am sure.

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The cloth cover with a wax paper wrap – Rustic Art

The soap: The soap has a nice pleasant smell and it is soft on the baby’s skin. It lathers well and the smell lingers for quite sometime on the skin. It is irritant to the eye, so your toddler must be made to close the eyes while washing off. The fact that it is irritable to the eye, makes me believe that there is no chemical added to mitigate that factor. Which is totally fine by me. There are a lot of good ingredients used in the soap – coconut oil, neem oil, castor oil, olive oil and the like, all organic and also chamomile, green tea, vanilla which adds to the wonderful aroma of the soap.

The price: A 100gm soap costs Rs. 155 which would be around three times the cost of an average soap but is still almost half the price of most organic soaps.

I have been using this soap on Ana kutti for the past two years and I have been very happy with it. Her skin is clean and soft after use and there has been no adverse effect on her till now.

Hope this gyan reaches you with a soft, fragrant, organic bubble of goodness on the side. 🙂