Sunday, October 16, 2011

Eat it or wear it!

In my early twenties I worked for an English firm that specialized in toiletries and fine comestibles. The connection between food and soap was jarring and unnatural to some (the same people who squinch up their noses at my favorite lavender fondant chocolates from Harrod’s of London, or rose saffron ice cream at Mashti Malone’s in Hollywood, or perhaps even the juniper nose out front of a Pliny the Elder from Russian River brewing). But in fact the best soaps and lotions as well as the best lunches come straight from the garden. Nature inside and out.

With the trend toward natural organic products we’ve all seen soaperies alongside berries at our local farmers market, and we've trod the miles of aisles in Whole Foods dedicated to lotions and potions, natural toothpaste and cosmetics. If you’re looking for a local gem from Portland come to Camamu.

Two lovely women named Sarah and Laurie handmake an amazing range of soaps in a converted residential property on Clinton street in a neighborhood full of artisanal breakfast joints. You can stop in to Compote for a spoonful of their signature berry goodness, then hop across the street to gobble up soaps that are totally natural, vegetable and gorgeous.

A table piled high with every variety of soap greets you when you enter the Camamu. I stood transfixed reading the simple ingredient labels and indulgently sniffing each bar. The names of their signtuare blends made me smile. The Lovely la LouLi (rhymes with Patchouli) is a bright orange bar crusted with safflower petals. Atlas Scrubbed, Lucky Lemongrass, Green Goddess, Zen Yen. Also on display are Sarah Love’s handcrafted inspirational works: decks of brightly lettered round cards that remind you to release expectations or enjoy your body with every breath.

When my olfactory glands were finally exhausted from breathing in the soapy goodness, I looked around. The shop, properly speaking, is a workshop. Brightly colored canvases painted by a local artist decorate the walls. The center of the space, though, is a huge worktable in the middle of the old house kitchen. A huge 60 gallon vat of olive oil stands next to the side door. A main ingredient in all of the soaps, the barrel gets refilled about every 6 weeks.

Each Camamu bar is a cornucopia of amazing ingredients that you might pull from the pantry for lunch. When I visited, Sarah was at work on about a 60 pounds of soap. The soap is made in batches in large trays that remind me of brownies in a cake pan.  Once the soap has set, the tray is sliced into bulk slabs with a custom wood and wire cutter, then further down into bars. Each tray weighs twenty pounds, which translates into 80 perfectly sized bars. Leaning in to a calmly speckled blue gray slab I inhaled the slight licorice scent of the neem flower. The mottled leopard print blocks contain coffee, perfect for the kitchen since the coffee naturally neutralizes odor.

I was smitten with the first Camamu bar I tried: Unreprentant Rose. The scent is as fresh and light as the rose blooming in your garden, rather than hyped up and perfumey, and the lather is soft and silky. My skins tends toward dry, and I was amazed at how soft and smooth I felt out of the shower, even on my face: healthy helpings of olive oil, milk, and the essential oils add the right blend of scent and moisture to each bar.

I stocked up on pooch bar shampoos for the sensitive-skinned dogs in my life. And I couldn’t leave without half a dozen yummy bath bars: another Unrepentant Rose for those days where I am feeling girly; sweet and mild Miel Oat; Rosehip Mint; the rich earthy scent and swirled brown and cream color of See The Forest Soap; and Lovely la LouLi.  My mouth watered reading about Hops in the Bath (hops are a natural anti-inflammatory), Chocolate Bliss which contains vanilla bean and cocoa, and the green tea infused Zen Yen. Which are destined for friends and which ones are for myself remains to be seen. 

The only bad thing about visiting the Camamu shop was the dozens of varieties I didn’t take home. Mildly therapeutic or just downright luscious scents like Summer Garden, with palmarosa and sweet orange, Queen Bee, with mallow and calendula, and naturally anti-microbial Turmeric Tonic are next on my list. Luckily, the lovely ladies at Camamu ship, so all the blends I didn’t take home this time are just a few clicks away.

And then, back home in Los Angeles, the quandary of which bar to pop open in the shower first. What a delectable treat.

2021 SE Clinton Street
Portland, OR

1 comment:

  1. love camamu soaps... i send them everywhere and i use them daily.... fabulous write up. you totally get it!!! happy autumn