Beautiful simplicity

Beautiful simplicity

Lily Diamond often finds inspiration, as well as fresh, California-grown ingredients, for her popular food and DIY body-care blog Kale & Caramel, at the farmers market. Photo: © 2018 Lori Fusaro

As a child, Lily Diamond watched with wonder and delight as her mother experimented in the kitchen with fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers grown on the lush land that surrounded their Maui home. Diamond came to appreciate these harvests as more than delicious, satisfying food; they were also the basis of body-care products made to beautify, soothe and heal.

Diamond's mother, an aromatherapist and herbalist, used herbs and flowers to create products such as infused oils and body scrubs—practicing the art of "kitchen beauty" long before it achieved a celebrity following.

"My mother grew herbs for health, beauty and culinary purposes. She taught me the healing properties of plants and their roles in the kitchen. And she shared the joy of experimenting with whatever ingredients she had on hand," Diamond said. "It was like learning a new language, and it's how I saw the world around me."

Encouraged by her mother's adventurous spirit, Diamond developed her sensory skills at a young age, tasting, touching and taking in the aromas that filled her mother's kitchen.

Diamond was 24 in 2008 when her mother died of cancer. Working through her grief, Diamond dove deeper into exploring the healing qualities of plants to honor her mother's legacy.

In 2012, she began a blog as part of her healing process and called it Kale & Caramel. The blog, rich with images of food and filled with positive affirmations, grew with the popularity of Instagram, where she currently has more than 62,000 followers.

"The blog gives me an opportunity to nourish others as well as myself," Diamond explained. "It's about food, but it's also about beauty, wellness, travel and various elements of living. People may be drawn in by a picture of a smoothie—but beyond that they get something honest, like talking about grief or insecurities."

Diamond turns herbs, edible flowers and honey, above, plus a wealth of other ingredients, into food, beverages and self-care products that aim to engage all five senses. Photos: © 2018 Lori Fusaro

Food for all five senses

The popularity of the blog became Diamond's inspiration for her 2017 book, "Kale & Caramel: Recipes for Body, Heart, and Table." It's a collection of vegetarian dishes and DIY body products that she calls a love letter to her mother.

Besides focusing on what Diamond calls "food for all five senses," the cookbook is a coming-of-age narrative that begins with Diamond's birth in a Northern California commune, growing up with a bohemian lifestyle on Maui and eventually returning to California (with stops in between, including Yale University).

Each chapter showcases the sensory qualities of eight aromatic herbs and four flowers: basil, cilantro, fennel, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme, as well as lavender, jasmine, rose and orange blossoms.

"These plants connect me back to my mother," she said. "And all of them are very therapeutic. Mint calms an upset stomach and lavender eases anxiety, for example. Herbs and flowers have the power to nourish inside and out."

Photographed by Diamond, the book features 80 recipes, including a fragrant dish of cumin and rose roasted cauliflower, and a free-form galette topped with figs, ricotta and honeyed thyme. There's also a refreshing tonic made with citrus and fresh sage that can be served as a mocktail or cocktail.

Diamond advocates for natural skincare, regularly using homemade, honey-based cleansers. Photos: © 2018 Lori Fusaro

A kitchen beauty shop

Relying on the natural scents, textures, cleansing and healing properties of plants and ingredients from her pantry, Diamond also offers simple recipes for DIY body-care products, such as lavender oat milk bath and a facial cleanser made with honey and dried rose petals.

"My favorite beauty shop is in the kitchen," she said. "That's where you'll find affordable, effective, natural skin care."

For instance, single-ingredient oils, sugar and salt from the pantry can be infused with flowers or herbs to make scrubs or exfoliators.

Diamond's motto: "What you use in the kitchen should be pure enough to apply to your skin. And what you slather on your body should be pure enough to eat."

Diamond has lived by that motto for the past decade by using raw honey as a cleanser in her everyday skincare routine. After cleansing, the self-described "honey washing evangelist" finishes with a spritz of rose- or orange blossom-infused water, and moisturizes her skin with single-ingredient oils such as sweet almond, olive or raw sesame.

Diamond says she has learned a lot about what it takes to grow the ingredients she uses by getting to know the farmers at her local markets. Photos: © 2018 Lori Fusaro

Farm to face

From her home in Topanga Canyon, Diamond makes a point to purchase many of her ingredients from farmers markets in the Los Angeles area. Some of her favorite items to buy directly from California farmers include fresh herbs, stone fruit, honey and citrus fruit.

"Isn't it lovely that they bring us their goods to enjoy?" she said. "I really love being able to dive into all of those California treasures. California citrus is just unparalleled."

Diamond said she first became enamored with farmers markets when she moved to San Francisco in 2010 and credits the experience as being part of the inspiration behind her blog. Along with excellent produce, she said shopping at the markets has provided her with a deeper understanding of food and the people who produce it.

"I've learned so much from farmers at the markets," she said. "As consumers, we don't always realize the pride they take in the work they're doing. Often their whole family is at work on the farm, and there's a tremendous amount of pride that goes into every step of the way, in getting that fruit from the seedling to the plant to the market."

She's made it a priority to get to know farmers by name, what they're growing and the challenges they face. It's something she said she hopes more of her urbanite neighbors will take the time to do.

"We have such a minuscule awareness of what it takes to get that tangerine from a farm in the Central Valley of California to your fruit bowl in New Jersey or L.A.—the number of hands that touched that earth, the water that goes into it, the people who own the farms. I think the more we can understand who is responsible for bringing our food to our homes and our tables, the greater appreciation we'll have."

Food for thought, as well as nourishment for skin, body and soul: These are what Diamond hopes readers take away.

Jolaine Collins

Shannon Springmeyer contributed to this story.

Looking good, honey!

Honey rose facial cleanser

Five minutes and a few simple ingredients are all you need to make this inexpensive facial cleanser. Diamond says honey offers antibacterial and pH-balancing qualities, and that its granular texture works as a gentle exfoliator.

1 to 2 tbsp. dried, edible rose petals (stems and
leaves discarded)
1/4 cup raw honey
Touch of lemon juice (for oily skin types only)

Grind rose petals in a clean spice grinder, coffee grinder, herb mill or small food processor until they become small flecks and dust. For greater exfoliation, use more petals and leave them in larger flecks. Transfer to a small bowl and add honey and lemon juice, if using, and stir to integrate petals. Splash face with water, then apply 1/2 tsp. or more of the honey rose mixture. Massage in circles around face and neck, adding extra force for deeper exfoliation. Wash completely with water and follow with a moisturizer. Makes about 2 to 3 weeks' worth.

Lavender oat milk bath

This fragrant milk bath can be made with your choice of dried flowers or herbs, including rose or rosemary. Packaged in a decorative container, it makes a thoughtful gift.

1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup dried lavender buds

Combine oats and lavender buds in a blender or spice grinder, and blend on high until they've become a flour. Add 3/4 cup or more to a bath for a delightfully milky, skin-softening, nervous system-soothing experience. Makes enough for 1 to 2 baths. 

Night night oil

For a soothing and calming bedtime ritual, use this as an anointing oil by placing it on pulse points of the wrists, sides and back of the neck, and over the heart.

8 oz. sweet almond oil
1/2 cup dried lavender buds or 4 drops lavender essential oil

If using dried lavender: Heat almond oil in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring continuously, until it is very hot but no bubbles form. Do not let it boil or simmer. Add lavender buds and continue to stir, using a wooden spoon to gently massage buds into oil. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Pour into a jar and seal.

Let mixture sit overnight. Strain through cheesecloth or a reusable tea bag and pour oil back into the jar. Seal and keep in a cool place, out of sunlight.

If using lavender essential oil: Pour almond oil into a clean 8-oz. glass bottle and add essential oil. Seal and shake 50 to 100 times to incorporate. Keep in a cool place, out of sunlight.

Use as a face and body moisturizer and anointing oil.

Photos and recipes copyright © 2017 by Lily Diamond from "Kale & Caramel: Recipes for Body, Heart, and Table" published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.


Citrus sage tonic