Where to Eat in Madrid

Confession: I write this post in an attempt to convince my fellow ISD curlies to meet me in Madrid for a girls’ trip of culinary delight. And, believe me, if there is any way to persuade these gals it is through food! After all, this blog was born through a series of brunches where our ideas seemed to double with each sip of a mimosa or bite of a pancake! And, since January is the month of planning, why not plan about future holidays with your pals?
But this post is also simply about my enthusiasm for all things Spanish – especially food, especially Madrid. I’ve written two blogs about this amazing city already not for lack of inspiration but out of pure love!

So, for travel inspiration and serious food envy, here are my top five suggestions on where and how to eat in the Spanish capital.

 

  1. Albur, Malasaña

Albur is puro madrileño to me. You can’t beat its down to earth local feel and truly authentic menu. They do a decent paella and have quite the rice list, but that’s not what I would suggest. (It is worth noting that Valencianos would laugh at eating paella in Madrid. But I understand that if you’re only in Spain for a short time and can’t make it to the land of arroz, then you take what you can get when you can get it!).

If you like meat (and a lot of it), the chuletón or mega steak is where it’s at here. Spanish steak is some of the best I’ve ever had (sorry, Florence, your bistecca is amazing but my adoptive Spanish heart remains loyal). And Albur has an unusual take on it: they deliver the sliced steak seared but mostly raw to your table along with a sizzling hotplate, a hearty portion of perfectly roast potatoes, pimientos de padrón and a bowl full of sea salt. You cook the steak the way you like on the hot plate, salt it to your heart’s desire and just die with deliciousness. It’s ah-may-zing. My carnivorous hubby was in heaven – not gonna lie, so was I!

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The tapas menu is also top shelf at Albur as well. I (always) recommend pimientos de padrón and croquetas – not just at Albur but in Spain overall.

What also makes this joint so fun is that despite being in the middle of Madrid’s achingly pijo (posh) hipster neighbourhood, Albur has retained its character 110%. So, it’s not a trendy joint, it is just Albur.

  1. Bazar, Chueca

Speaking of trendy joints, though, my favourite is and always will be Bazar in the buzzing gay village in Madrid, just north of Gran Via. I was introduced to this place early in my first year in Spain and I make sure to have a meal at Bazar every time I’m back in Madrid. Maybe it’s the white décor with fuschia back lighting or the delicious Spanish-Asian fusion thing they’ve got going on, but Bazar always feels like a treat. One blog described it as the spot where you can always find “the well-heeled of Madrid,” which is both true and hilarious, but it is actually not as pretentious as that sounds. It’s just fancy fun!

One thing to note though: without a reservation, you can expect to wait a while or not get a table at all. So, book ahead if you can or scope out bars nearby for a vino while you wait.

  1. Mercado San Miguel, Plaza Mayor

Now this place is totally a tourist trap and you can find tapas that are as good (or better) for half the price at other places. HOWEVER! It is so lively and vibrant that the ambience alone is worth the extra couple of euros. Located just near Plaza Mayor in the heart of Madrid, this old market has been converted into a collection of tapas bars that serve up all different regional specialties. This is another reason I like it: I can get Basque pinxos and Galician pulpo all in one place. It makes for a great end to a walking tour of central Madrid.

  1. Tapas Crawl in La Latina, La Latina

Now, it goes without saying that tapas is what and how you should eat in Spain. These small sharing plates make for an authentic and delicious way to dine. It also helps that you can get a perfect glass of red and a delicious nibble for 4 euros. La Latina is definitely the barrio to find tapas in Madrid because it’s got such a great vibe and is so madrileño. It is just south of Sol and north of Lavapies – very central.

I recommend doing your research beforehand though and finding an organized tapas crawl or at least noting the recommended bars because there is such a thing as tapas overload and you want to make sure you’re getting the best of the best, especially in such a touristy zone in Madrid where you can get sub-par food quite easily. DSC_0474

I recommend the following tours:

The Culture Trip

Madrid Food Tour 

 

  1. Chocolateria San Gines, Sol

Another central Madrid fave Chocolateria San Gines is smack dab in the middle of the city and serves up some churro and chocolate goodness like you wouldn’t believe! Again, it is in a touristy zone of Madrid so it is full of Americans asking stupid questions like,  “Why do they serve chocolate in a cup??” but ignore that. You can definitely find more authentic spots, but I’m keeping this list central, presuming that those who will be reading it will be tourists themselves and staying in downtown Madrid.

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My list could go on and on – I really don’t have enough good things to say about the Spanish capital and its culinary delights. It is worth mentioning, though, that Spanish food is not very veggie-friendly. So, if you’re a vegetarian, you may have to do some extra research to find out where to eat.

Happy planning (or just day-dreaming)! If you have any other questions about visiting Madrid, feel free to send them over.

 

 

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“Be Really Good at What You Do” and Other Advice From GirlBoss Sharon Lockwood

Writing this piece was really special for me. Sharon Lockwood is a Toronto-based designer, business woman extraordinaire, and –simply put — a creative genius. She is also my wonderful mum! Sharon has founded not just one but two businesses in her lifetime and we at If She Dreams have wanted to pick at her boss-lady brain for a long time now. I can easily say that my own entrepreneurial spirit was ignited by her example. Running my own business was never an impossibility and success was not off limits – she proved it. Interestingly, at around the same time that I took the plunge and started my own business(es), Sharon did the same for the second time! She expanded her graphic design firm Line of Sight Design with a new adventure in textiles called ZayZay,  an exotic brand of luxury linens. Read on as The Boss shares her insight and wisdom as an entrepreneur, a mother, and a woman of colour.

 So, tell us about your empire.

My first business was Line of Sight Design, a graphic design firm that I founded in 1985, which has been growing and creating ever since. Our expertise is in branding that includes marketing and promotional materials, websites, signage, multimedia exhibits, packaging, and event promotions. We even design wedding invitations!
In 2015, I launched ZayZay – a vibrant collection of luxury duvet covers and bed linens. We have 25 limited edition designs, all my original paintings and creations, printed onto the highest quality 100% Egyptian cotton. ZayZay linens transform a neutral space, the bedroom, into living art.

Why did you start ZayZay at this point in your career? You already had a super successful design firm going!

I have run Line of Sight for 30 years and have enjoyed every second of it. But I have been working primarily in the corporate realm all this time, which is consistent with revenue but a bit of a straight jacket in terms of creativity. Well, not always, though it is true that corporate graphic design is not generally very spontaneous or fun. What I longed for (and suppose what I got in small doses when I taught at Ryerson and OCAD) was an injection of spontaneity and joy from the creative aspects of design. I wanted to blend my business knowledge with something that would go back to my initial attraction to art college in the beginning: textiles. I spent several years thinking about how to leverage my experience and find an avenue to apply my creativity legitimately.

Eventually it came to me to create and design duvet covers – a duvet cover is essentially an 8-foot canvas for your bed! There is a lot of room for creativity there. From a business standpoint, I thought this would garner more revenue in a way that was very different from the billable hour model of graphic design.

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I put in about three years of intense research before launching ZayZay in October 2015. Skin health and the planet matter to me. Central to the philosophy of ZayZay is adherence and certified eco-integrity in the manufacturing, for example water recycling, no chemical additives, and fair and safe labour practices.

What have you learned on this new path from graphic design to textiles and retail?

 I am learning so much, honestly. I realized I had been so ignorant to many things about this new world we live in terms of communication.  But I also realized that I would have had to learn it with Line of Sight as well, even if ZayZay didn’t come about. Communication has changed drastically. There has been a profound shift in the way people talk to each other. So design, marketing, must change, too.
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Why did you start your own business in the first place and what do you like about it?

I love the flexibility. When I say flexibility, it’s a little bit delusional, but when you say you are your own boss it means you don’t have to ask permission – to pick up something or delay your arrival if needed. Not to say you can do this too often because you can’t (if you do, you won’t have a business). But you have the choice. That totally changes your relationship with work. Could I ever work for anyone else now? No, never. It’s the sense of freedom on a moment by moment basis that keeps me going.
When you say you are your own boss it means you don’t have to ask permission
When I was working for someone else in my early days as a designer, I made a lot of money for other people. I realized I could be the one to benefit financially from my own hard work. This was a huge, huge incentive for me to go off on my own.
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Accommodating a family was also a big factor. Having my own business, I could be flexible as a mum – I could even have my kids in my office (and I did at times). I don’t believe I would have held a job having three children within the space of four years because I was perpetually pregnant that whole time. The downside to being a small business owner while a mother was not being able to take maternity leave. On the other hand, the ability to say “I’m taking my kids to the doctor” or “I’m looking after my sick child today” without asking permission of anyone was huge. Mind you, you do have clients. In this sense, instead of having one boss, you have several people to answer to!

What advice do you have to other entrepreneurial women?

Being really good at what you do, really really good, and knowing you are good is a necessity when you have your own business. And you also can’t underestimate getting experience working for someone else because, in the end, it can be very costly learning lessons on your own.
Managing people well is also enormously important; that’s going to make or break your business. You have to have a policy for how you want people to behave, how your business should function, have a set of rules in place before you start, even before you have a staff. Lay down the game rules, make a wish list of exactly what each role entails and who you’d like to hire. So that you know before you’re in a position of panic what type of person you can and want to work with.
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However, none of this I knew when I started. When I started off on my own with Line of Sight, it was out of fury and rage because someone told me I couldn’t and I was determined. When people tell me I can’t, that propels me.
With my second company [ZayZay], it started very differently. I am older now but I am not ready to stop working. I wanted to change how I worked and have reason to be out of the office, exercise my creativity, travel, and put my signature on something. Design is often very anonymous and you create something beautiful on behalf of someone else. But ZayZay is mine, it’s my project. And, of course, I want to get really rich and indulge myself (and my children). Make money first and then go for the bohemian lifestyle 😉
When people tell me I can’t, that propels me.
 Looking back, anything you’d do differently?
Would I change anything? No, I wouldn’t.  Not at all. Even the last 12 months which have been very challenging, I have learned so much. And I’m grateful for that.

Pssst….ZayZay is having a massive sale for Valentine’s Day! Check out http://www.zayzayshop.com to see the deals – 40% off until February 14th! If you want to feel and see these beauties in real life, check out their pop-up shop at 216 Ossington Ave (just south of Dundas) from February 10-12th!

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Sweetheart Cities

The enchanting smell of the bakery woke me every morning; the neighbours’ chatter in a delectable foreign tongue easing me from dreams to reality. My mother and grandmother bustled in the courtyard behind the house, their banter in the same language I spoke but sweet to the ear nonetheless. My sisters played on my dad’s lap in the hammock outside while my aunt and uncle chatted at the table beside. Our days in that place started with these warm smells and comforting sounds and were followed by winding excursions to the Mediterranean beach, fresh ice creams awaiting us.

Many evenings during this month, festivities took over the village: little girls my age dressed in polka dot dresses with frills on their sleeves, their mothers and aunts and cousins adorned the same, flocked to the square in colourful packs. Men in vests tuned their guitars while families filled the streets and the balconies above the plaza. I watched, entranced, as the women began to dance, feet stomping to rhythms so fast I could barely keep track, hands snapping castanets in syncopation, their frilled tails twirling behind them. Tired but ecstatic, we would walk back through the narrow streets, uphill all the way to our little house.

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La Plaza del Sol, Madrid, Spain

I was enamoured, totally and completely. Cómpeta, this small village in Andalucía in the south of Spain, was my first sweetheart city. I knew I would come back and I promised the Spanish language would one day become my own. Even at just seven years old, I felt a light inside of me in this place, a comfort and familiarity with these surroundings that was not through experience but sensation alone. That’s what a sweetheart city is: a place not native to you but where you feel both at home and more alive in a way that no other place can make you feel.

 

What I didn’t realize at the time in this Andalucían corner  was that I hadn’t just fallen in love with this one town but the whole country. I made good on my promise to return, traveling back to Spain on family trips and school excursions a few times before finally moving there in my early twenties. I also came to speak Spanish fluently, as I told myself I must do.

During those later trips and the three years I spent living in Spain, I realized I had a sweetheart city in Madrid, too. To this day, my heart skips at the thought of the Spanish capital – I can smell its air, taste its food, find my way through its winding core to my favourite corners.

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In my element

Sometimes I think I became myself in that place, I found who I wanted to be – or perhaps who I always was. This is a key element of what makes a sweetheart city, I think. It isn’t just the delicacies and the architecture, but what the locale makes you feel about yourself when you are there. I am exceptionally fortunate to have traveled to so many wonderful places in my lifetime and I have loved many. However, none made me feel like the same way. Madrid – Spain, really –has me enganchada (hooked) for life.

 

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A hidden bay in Vela Luka, Croatia

This past summer, I was thrilled to visit this sweetheart city of mine again and discover that of my best friend Sonja for her wedding.

Born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Sonja spent her summers in her father’s hometown of Vela Luka, Croatia. When she and her (now) husband decided to get married, they chose the small island town of Vela Luka to host just 30 of their nearest and dearest. While I had visited the Croatian island on vacation before (at Sonja’s recommendation, of course), I had never been back with her.

When I arrived and saw her in this new terrain, I recognized immediately the joy and contentment on my bestie’s face. In Vela Luka, she became her true mermaid self, in and out of the turquoise Adriatic every hour, munching on fresh figs she picked from a tree on the road, always barefoot. Sonja and I met in middle school in Toronto at 12 years old. Since then, we have been best friends and watched each other grow through so many moments of life. Despite knowing each other so well for so long, never before had I seen her like this, in her element. I realized I never could have known this part of her because it could only fully come alive in this special place.

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Sunset besties

After the beautiful wedding in Vela Luka, I flew to Spain to celebrate the nuptials of another dear friend. Returning to Madrid felt like coming home. The last time I visited the city was in 2011. In between then and now, I had recrafted roots as an adult in my hometown of Toronto and lived in India for the better part of a year. I didn’t know how I’d feel – if that sweetheart feeling might have changed for me because I had changed so much in that time.

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A classic Croatian breakfast spread

But no. Spain still felt as familiar and enchanting as it always had. And despite the great life changes that had occurred in between my visits, I experienced those same glorious sensations: the contentment in my middle, the skip in my step. It felt so good.

It’s truly something else to have a sweetheart city.

I would delight in hearing tales about your favourite places. Please feel free to leave a comment below and tell me what corner of the world makes you come alive again.

 

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Balance: Making Space

You know that moment when you realize you’ve exceeded your limit? When you’ve said “yes” too many times? When the weight of all of your load seems heavier than ever? And then something happens and the mountain of responsibilities comes crashing down on you?

They aren’t nice, those moments.

We’ve all experienced them – myself included.

To keep that feeling from recurring, I’ve asked myself some tough questions: Why does this happen? Does it need to? What have I done to contribute to it? Am I creating a problem where there isn’t one?

The answers to the above are endless and personal and shift from day to day. But the response that remains consistent is BALANCE. And more of it. The subject of many conversations, in law especially but across fields, balance can be an illusory goal, albeit a necessary one.

I’ve noticed that balance is commonly described in hours: finishing work at a certain time, spending so many hours with family, exercising for X hours per week. I, too, have conceptualized it in this way before.  However, my notion of equilibrium has shifted recently.

For me, now, balance is about open spaces. It is about leaving room to enjoy. And for things to go wrong.

That might seem like a rather negative approach to the concept; counterintuitive to the idea of balance itself, which is meant to uplift, not bring down. I don’t mean to be pessimistic. Rather, it’s my attempt to be realistic about how to keep the scales aligned (and spirits high) when, inevitably, life gets tough.

Work gets intense. Period. But we are trained to allow it to, to think that is normal, even to seek it out. The legal profession, in particular, is an extreme one. Lawyers face numerous deadlines, great responsibility with greater consequences, and enormous effort required at all times. It’s pretty hectic. Even if you manage to contain work within certain hours, the sensation of pressure remains when you’re off the clock because you feel like you have to keep going, a break is a failure, a lack of ambition.

I also realize that – like many of my colleagues – I put a lot of pressure on myself. To perform. To perform well. To perform well all the time. I am constantly pushing myself to do more and do it the best I possibly can. This drive isn’t a bad thing, but I admit that, sometimes, I’m a bit out of touch with reality. First, it’s impossible to 1001 things really well all at the same time. But also, even when a project isn’t an instant success doesn’t mean it’s a failure. Such reminders have been good for me. And acknowledging how I contribute to my own stress is important to rectify it.

Our professional lives are always going to occupy a large part of our lives. Understanding why and how is important. The question here, however, is how much space do we give this sector of our lives?  When we become so consumed by work and let it absorb all of our energy and capacity, we don’t leave any room for the rest of our lives. We take on so much that in order just to function and get through it all, there is no choice but to run at our highest capacity all the time. So, as soon as other aspects of life become complicated, breaking point arrives instantaneously because we haven’t left any room.

Those complications could be as simple as a cold: when you get sick, how much does your world turn upside down?  Or it could be a fight with a loved one: how low do you drop when that happens?

But when shit really hits the fan – serious health problems or financial struggles or deep emotional upheaval – then what?

Well, without balance, rock bottom is far closer than it has to be.img_4077

On the flip side, when life is going smoothly and we don’t overburden ourselves with work, we have the scope to really enjoy and savour the good times. We are fully present with our loved ones. We are better parents/partners/daughters/friends. Sleep is deeper and more fulfilling. Food even tastes better because now it isn’t simply fuel but ceremony.

Yet if anxiety seeps into every corner of life, the little pleasures are ruined, too.

So this is a call to leave room. Create space. Feel better.

My First Punjabi Wedding (in photos)

 

Living in India, I saw a lot of sights (and smelled a lot of smells) that will stay with me forever. Now back in Canada, I’m often asked, “So, how was India?” I can only shake my head in retrospective awe. India is impossible to summarize. I believe this is why there are so many travel memoirs written about the country; you need at least 300 pages to even begin to explain. But when people ask if anything stands out, I immediately have an answer: my first Punjabi wedding.

Indian weddings are generally explosions of glitter and pink and ladoos

You’ve probably heard about the colour and pop of Indian weddings. In contrast to the white dresses and formality of western nuptials, Indian weddings are generally explosions of glitter and pink and ladoos. Punjabi weddings certainly hold true to this form and, some may say, go even further. My fiancé Jaimal being half Punjabi himself, I have had to study these traditions in preparation for our own wedding celebration!

In February, Jaimal and I were invited to a wedding in rural Punjab by a new friend of ours Jassi. Her bud Baldev was getting married in the village where he grew up and, in true Indian fashion, everybody was invited. The photo essay above details the three days of the 10 day event (!) that we attended in the small village of Sukkar Chak, 12 km from the border of Pakistan. While each hour of our visit produced a story unique and worth telling, these photos summarize the wondrous experience. Click on the images for snippets of what we were part of that weekend.

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Coconut Oil Saved My Curls

Moving to India brought about a lot of changes to my daily routine. I commuted to work in a rickshaw. I bought my groceries in a bustling market where I haggled for my bananas and papaya. Cows regularly cut me off on the road. I ate some form of lentil pretty much every day. I knew these kinds of shifts would happen before the move, but I didn’t predict the changes to the one thing that probably impacts my day the most: my curls.

I can’t pin down exactly what made the greatest difference  – the heat, the humidity, the dust in the air, the hard water – but my curls exploded in India. I spent the first 5 months looking like a poodle in the Amazon. And not only was it frizzy and massive, my hair was more knotted than it’s ever. Within a day or two of washing it, my curls seemed to fuse together and I would curse throughout my shower.

So in order to tame it, I went through my tried-and-tested curly products from home like wildfire. I arrived in India in November 2015 and by the end of the year, my tubs and tubes were empty. To be frank, even those didn’t help me much. And I couldn’t buy any more Deva Curl or Kinky Custard or Mixed Chicks Leave-In Conditioner anywhere there. So I searched beauty salons and pharmacies looking for an answer. Nothing worked.

When I moved to Bombay in February (I started out in Delhi for the first three months), my friend here recommended something I hadn’t yet tried: coconut oil. Indian women have sworn by hair oils for ages, especially coconut and olive oil. Almost all hair salons in India offer an oil treatment and judging by the shiny, thick locks I was surrounded by, I thought I’d give one a try.

I quickly learned that an oil treatment is more like a head and scalp massage with moisturizing oils. Not a bad start! I arrived at the salon and Surendra ushered me to my seat. He had brought with him a small bowl of coconut oil the size of my palm with one inch of depth. I looked at it and chuckled to myself. He has no idea what he’s dealing with.

My hair was tied up at that point. I decided I had better let him see what he’s in store for. Upon letting my curls loose, the poor Surendra squealed out a yelp. Oh dear, I thought. He looked at the little bowl of oil and then at my head again. We were speaking in one or two words of Hinglish (Hindi and English), so I didn’t know exactly what he was thinking. But he seemed to decide we’d start with the small bowl. Optimistic, I thought.

An oil massage begins with the application of oil to dry hair, starting at the scalp and roots. Surendra struggled (and then eventually ripped) my hair into parts and began to apply the coconut oil from the small bowl, bit by bit.

He hadn’t even finished the left corner of my head and the bowl was empty. Even funnier, the oil had disappeared on my head. You couldn’t tell that my curls had seen anything applied. It looked dry and normal. Now Surendra saw what I knew was coming. He stepped away for a second and came back with pretty much the whole tub of coconut oil. Ok, I thought, now we’re talking.

Surendra continued to apply the oil until my scalp was covered and began massaging my head and neck. Hair benefits aside, the treatment is worth it just for this.  Sooo good. After an hour of the massage, he pulled my hair back into a slick ponytail and suggested I keep it in for a few more hours then wash thoroughly. Now totally relaxed and smelling tropical, I headed out the door. Even with a massive amount of oil in my hair, I still didn’t look like a had a massive amount of oil in my hair. I was surprised he didn’t apply it to the rest of my strands as well, but I figured this was the way they do it, so I’ll try it this way. He told me to come back in 3-4 weeks for my next treatment.

After washing and air drying, I noticed an immediate difference to the texture: my curls were softer and less frizzy. My hair still wasn’t as tamed as I hoped, but I was very pleased nonetheless.

However, after a day or two, my frizz returned and so did the knots. I only went back to see him a few weeks later, taking his advice a bit literally. The second time was just as relaxing and the results were still great, but the effect was still not quite enough.

So I decided to start applying oil on my own in the shower. Sometimes I’d use it as a leave-in and sometimes as a mask that I’d leave in for hours and then wash out. I would use it every day or every other day depending on my hair’s condition and where I would be travelling to. I also used it on my roots and my ends, which I needed desperately. Now with consistent use, I could see a remarkable difference. No frizz, soft and light, shiny, no knots. Finally!

I’ve been using coconut oil regularly for a few months now and I’m officially a convert. Many curlies have been recommending it and using coconut oil for ages all over the world, but I didn’t give it a go until India. I can fully appreciate why so many people swear by it, especially after five months of fighting with my hair without any tools.

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Immediately post-oil treatment – shiny and fresh!

I used the Nutriva Extra Virgin Coconut Oil – the same one you can use for cooking, teeth pulling, on your skin etc. Nothing special about it (some oils say they’re made especially for hair but I don’t think this really makes a difference). I also have a little spritz bottle of coconut oil that I use when travelling or to touch up in between washes to tame frizz and give a nice shine (I am tempted to bring this little bottle in my purse even because it is SO useful, but I don’t because I’m afraid of spills).

I’ve heard great things about avocado oil and olive oil but have yet to try them out. Personally, I love the smell and consistency of coconut oil and its multipurpose personality (body moisturizer, lip balm, etc.), so I think I’ve found my match. And I’m never letting go!

What other oils have you used? Any other natural curly hair products you recommend? Leave a comment and let us know!

 

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