Artist of the Month: Anne Ferrari of Vita Pulita

055_0The following post was written by Anne Ferrari, Owner and Founder of Vita Pulita, the first Herban Lifestyle Store Artist of the Month. During the month of December, Anne’s soaps will be featured at our new brick and mortar store in Fairfax, VA.

I was always fascinated by soap. As a child growing up in the Bronx, NY, I didn’t have many soap options, but I was still fascinated with making soap pretty. My holiday gift to my first grade teacher was an ordinary bar of soap on which I pinned a homemade pompom. The obsession with soap remains. It wasn’t until my good friend Mary Kearns shared with me that she had started making soap herself that I was finally inspired to give it a try. And once I did, there was no turning back.

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As a professor with a PhD in psychology, I am accustomed to using research in my work experience. This serves me well as soap ingredients need a great deal of research too. One customer of mine confessed that she didn’t worry too much about what she put on her skin as she believed that it was not absorbed by her body. Unfortunately, research on breast cancer and the use of parabens in beauty products shows us otherwise. Vita Pulita products never contain parabens, as they never contain artificial fragrances or colors. They are products that I feel confident using and sharing with my family. In fact, Vita Pulita was born of necessity, when my pregnant daughter could not find a safe yet still luxurious body butter. I whipped up a combination of unrefined shea butter, unrefined cocoa butter, rice bran oil, and essential oil. I still sell that body butter, and it is a customer favorite.

Although I am not an artist, one of my favorite things about making soap is making it beautiful. Many of us assume that” beauty” and “natural” do not go together and quite frankly, there are some colors that simply cannot be made naturally in soap, such as a vibrant blue. However, natural soap can be just as lovely, especially when one dives into her creative side. Check out my White Wedding Soap, Carrot Orange Soap with Cocoa, Black Charcoal Facial Detox Soap, Cupcake Soap or Pink Sea Salt Bar and see what you think. All of the colors and scents in Vita Pulita Soaps are from natural and healthy sources, such as plant essential oils and ground up spices. If a color or scent cannot be made using this method, then it will not be made.

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It wasn’t until recently that my father shared with me that his mother made soap in Italy from olive pomace left over from the farm. I was shocked, but not surprised. I was named for her after all (over the protests of my mother who did not care for the sound of “Anna Maria”), as I was born on the anniversary of her death. And I chose to name my company Vita Pulita, which means “clean life” in Italian, although I don’t speak Italian myself. Perhaps the founder of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, would say that my need to “soap” is part of my family collective unconscious, inherent in me. It certainly feels that way at times.

You can find Anne’s products online at the Vita Pulita website, on Etsy and seasonally at markets in Westchester County.

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Wordless Wednesday: Farmers Market Finds

Perfect tomatoes. Ready to eat. No adornments necessary.

English peas. Preciously short season. Delicious in Minted Pea Soup.

Fingerling potatoes. Red and white. To be roasted with garden herbs and olive oil.

Strawberries. Last of the crop. Season came early this year. Perfect for Cold Strawberry Soup.

Icelancic lambs wool. Naturally gorgeous brown color. Will be used to make a batch of Fuzzy Soaps.

Peas and potatoes and basil.

Tomatoes and cucumbers. A salad in the making.

The jewel-toned cauliflower would look gorgeous on a crudité platter.

Nice variety of squash. My favorite are the oddly decorative and yummy patty pan.

Garlic scapes have a very short season. They are wonderful in stir fries.

So happy to have Solitude Wool selling their wares now at the farmers market.

Our New Brick and Mortar Friend: The Local Market

The Local Market opened less than a month ago in Falls Church, VA. The store features locally produced breads, dairy products, sausages, condiments and in-season fruits and vegetables from farms within a 100-mile radius of the store. The owners, husband and wife team Tom and Laura Coates, came up with the idea after missing too many Saturday mornings at the town’s award winning farmers market, due to their children’s sports commitments. The Local Market is open 7 days a week from 9am to 8pm, so people like me who also often miss the farmers market (due to travel or oversleeping) can have access to all the great produce, dairy products, fresh bread and more any time it’s convenient. I have been wishing for a store like this since I moved to this area, so I was thrilled when two different friends told me that it was coming to town.

In addition to being a great place to do my grocery shopping, it is the first retail outlet near me to carry my full line of bath and body products, so I love The Local Market even more than I would have!

image copyright The Falls Church News Press

The local press has already given it some great coverage, and word-of-mouth news about the new neighborhood gem has been spreading like wildfire. I believe this store is a place whose time has come, so not only are they going to make it, but I believe it will thrive.

So, if you are in town, I hope you’ll stop by The Local Market at 246 West Broad Street, Falls Church VA 22046.

Meatless Monday: The Story of the Morel, a Recipe


Our farmers market Mushroom Guy had a couple of containers of morels on sale, as they are at the very end of their preciously short season (mid-April to mid-May). So we snagged them. I was looking forward to making a dish I had read about in my new favorite non-fiction book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” by Barbara Kingsolver. The book documents her and her family’s year-long journey of eating as locally as possible (in their case, living on a farm in southwestern Virginia made some things very easy, and others rather difficult).

The book is peppered with great seasonal recipes, and one of the springtime vegetarian dishes had caught my eye. I made a modified version of the Asparagus and Morel Bread Pudding for my family for Easter (it was a huge hit). However, I didn’t have morels at that time (a mushroom that cannot be cultivated, and which Kingsolver wild harvests in abundance on her rural Virginia property), so had substituted them with cremini mushrooms. So, when Mushroom Guy had the last of the morels, I was eager to give the recipe another try.

Both times, I made some modifications, based on my family’s tastes. Here’s my version of the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 loaf of whole grain bread, stale or toasted
  • 1 pound of asparagus, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup green onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound of morels or other mushrooms
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups of grated cheese (cheddar or swiss)

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Place the milk and green onions in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to steep.

Cut the bread into 1 inch cubes, then place the cubes in a 4 quart baking dish.

Steam the asparagus for a few minutes until bright green. Spread over the bread cubes.

Coarsely chop the mushrooms. If you are using morels, soak them in warm salted water for a few minutes.

Mushroom Guy said that it’s important to give them a good, salty soak to remove any “critters” that may have moved into them. I was glad that I followed his advice. The salt water coaxed this little guy out of his hiding place. Good thing since it wouldn’t have been a vegetarian dish otherwise!

Drain the mushrooms and sauté them in the butter until tender. Pour the cooked mushrooms and butter over the asparagus bread mixture.

Beat the eggs until just mixed. Grate the cheese and mix into the eggs. Pour the mixture over the asparagus, bread, morel mixture.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or  until the cheese is bubbly and begins to brown on the edges. Serve hot with a salad. It also makes great leftovers.

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Strawberry Jam Made with Port Wine


It’s strawberry season at the farmers markets in my area. I look forward to this time of year, and always take full advantage of the abundance of this wonderful fruit. While we eat a lot of them fresh, I like to use them in a variety of recipes, including salads, soups, smoothies and more. This year, I decided to make jam, and since I love cooking with wine, I thought I would substitute port for the water in this super simple recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of cleaned, hulled, coarsely chopped strawberries (organic or local)
  • 1 cup of port wine
  • 1 cup of sugar (I used organic fair trade)
  • juice of 1 lemon

Place all of the ingredients in a thick-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently to keep it from burning, and frequently scraping it from the sides of the pan.

Cook until thickened (about 30-40 minutes).

Pour into a clean container, and store in the refrigerator. Eat within 2 weeks (this should be absolutely no problem). Enjoy on toast, or as a glaze for meat dishes.

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The People’s Garden Fall 2010 Programs

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) People’s Garden Project continues with some great fall programming. Workshops include instruction on food preservation techniques, cover crop selection, hoop house construction, and more. You can download the 2010 Fall Program Guide for specific details about their offerings. All programs are free and open to the public.

In addition, the USDA Farmers Market will continue through October 29 every Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is located in USDA’s parking lot, at the corner of 12th Street & Independence Avenue, SW. You can purchase locally grown fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, maple products, baked goods, and much more from local producers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. And on Friday, October 29 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the USDA will hold its Harvest Festival, which include music, food, games, and more.

For more information, you can visit the People’s Garden website or call (202) 708-0082.

USDA’s People’s Garden and Healthy Garden Series

photo copyright USDA

When were on the Mall last month for the Climate Rally, my husband and I passed a vegetable/herb garden on the grounds of the US Department of Agriculture. It looked like a large, very well-kept version of a garden you would find in someone’s yard. It was the first time I had noticed it.

Then, a couple of days ago, I was talking to a friend who works for the USDA who told me that the gardens are part of their People’s Garden Initiative. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, established the garden on February 12, 2009 in commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday. Vilsack challenged all USDA employees to create similar gardens at USDA facilities worldwide, or to help their communities create gardens in vacant lots, schools, or churches.

photo copyright USDA

In addition to the sustainably managed gardens that I happened across, the USDA headquarters is also offering programming from May to August, including workshops and youth programs, all of which are free and open to the public. The workshops will cover topics such as composting, beekeeping, green roofs and natural pest control.

The USDA also has a farmers market, which is held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m, every Friday from June 4 through October 29. It is located in USDA’s parking lot, corner of 12th Street and Independence Avenue, SW.

For those of you who are not located conveniently to Washington, DC, the People’s Garden Initiative website is a great resource where you will find links to gardening tips, recipes, healthy eating tips, and more.

You can download a PDF version of the People’s Garden Program Guide, which lists all the upcoming festivals, gardening workshops and youth programs being held from May through August. To register for one of the Healthy Garden Workshops call (202) 690-3898. And to schedule a guided tour of the People’s Garden or Program for Youth call (202) 708-0082.

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