THE BLOG

Maya Angelou, Be Yourself and How to Make Herb Liqueur

05/06/2014 13:45 BST | Updated 04/08/2014 10:59 BST

Maya Angelou

The poet laureate, author and activist who passed away recently redefined herself many times throughout her life. Even her name was an invention! Ms. Angelou once worked as a prostitute but that didn't define her. And as a child she was sexually abused so from a very young age learned how to be be disappointed by life and other human beings. Yet she went on to soar: she was the first black woman to write a non-fiction bestseller, I know why the caged bird sings, she was an activist, an actress, a dancer, the list goes on. In one lifetime there are many journeys to make. We limit ourselves when literally, the world is a great big canvas waiting for us to begin painting. Most poignantly of all, the life of this great woman was not just about survival but endurance, taking risks and forging her own destiny in spite of everything. We must persevere despite all the bad things that happen, all the setbacks, all the people who say that we will never amount to very much and see us as life's failures. Life goes on and so too must we. The substance of great human beings is hewn from sadness, despair and tragedy. No one is born so lucky that they will never be catapulted into darkness only to have to rise again.

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Darkness before dawn, Photo copyright S. van Dalen

Be yourself

It occurred to me as I walked the hound in the early morning mists, that many suffer in this life unnecessarily by living a lie and not being true to themselves. The most powerful individuals who possess a clean spirit and who stand out as if they were demigods (because they are so unusual) are the ones who have figured themselves out. Happiness, that elusive unicorn, is none other than the person we must learn to like the best: ourselves. The late founder of The Body Shop, Anita Roddick, once created a storm by saying that all creams and potions that promised anti-ageing miracles and wrinkle eradication were a complete con. The furore that followed was understandably loud and furious, after all this was a woman who encouraged us to buy her concoctions by enticing us with the amazing hidden properties therein! But hear this: Mrs. Roddick was reinforcing a home truth in a roundabout way: confidence, charisma, a bullet-proof attitude, charm and downright sexiness are the things you can't buy in this life or the next. But you can throw your worries out the window, learn to just be and recognise what really matters.

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Happiness amongst the buttercups. My much-loved pooch posing for his mama,

Photo copyright S. van Dalen

How to make herb liqueur

I have a long history of making alcohol-based liqueurs and infusions made with fruit or herbs. A fond memory is my beloved late papa, a chemical engineer, teaching me how to saturate alcohol with sugar. I am the sort who requires a digestif after supper- this seems perfectly normal. And why buy the expensive brands when they are just as easy to make? We are in the final days of Spring; the herbs are ripe and ready to be picked- remember timing is everything. Pick mature herbs on a dry day and always after the morning dew has evaporated. The jar or bottle you use for the maceration is just as important- metal imparts an acidic taste, enamelware might chip, (fired) pottery or wood is best. You can use brandy but pure alcohol at 60 or 70% and which is sold as 'alcohol for fruits' in French supermarkets will produce a more authentic liqueur.

I believe that natures provides. This recipe is for a herb liqueur that I devised by pure chance- all the herbs were literally growing wild in my garden and nearby meadows. And so I made use of them! I omit the sugar as I prefer the strong taste of the herbs only- but if you wish for a sweeter, smoother liqueur, do add the sugar as follows: once the herbs have macerated for several weeks in the alcohol, strain, discard the herbs and add granulated sugar (one cup sugar to one liter of liquid). Place in bottles and cork. Leave to mature in a dark, cool place for up to six more weeks before drinking.

Dandelions- leaves

Plantain- leaves

Yarrow- leaves and flowers

Chicory- leaves and flowers

Borage- leaves and flowers

Nettle- leaves

Wild strawberry- leaves

Sage - leaves

Rosemary - leaves

Thyme - leaves and flowers

Lemon balm - leaves

Rocket - leaves

Oregano - leaves and flowers

Marjoram - leaves

Apple mint - leaves

The resulting liqueur helps digestion. This is why digestifs were consumed traditionally after rich meals.

Gather the leaves and flowers. Do not wash the herbs but rather pick off any spiders or bugs. These can be returned to the garden rather than obliterated as is the wont of urban types. Place the herbs and flowers in a ceramic crock, preferably. Cover with alcohol at least 4 centimeters above the herbs. Cover the crock with a tight fitting lid. Leave in a cool, dark place for at least six weeks. Strain the contents of the crock, discard the herbs. Bottle the liqueur and store for six weeks more before consuming. One small glass per night before bedtime works wonders!

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Wild herbs in a meadow, Photo copyright S. van Dalen