They say that spring will come again
This moment marks Midwinter or the day known as the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, the time when the earth moves farthest away from the sun . You can imagine in times past as the days got longer and colder and darker, the fear that our ancestors must have felt, wondering if the warmth and light would ever return and when it finally did, the joy with which it would have been greeted . Centuries later we still have reason to be thankful as the earth begins her long trek back towards the suns warmth and the eventual greening of Spring.
Every year to celebrate the wintry Solstice eve, my sister Ellen and I throw a raucous gathering at her lovely home , a 19th century log cabin nestled deep in a beautiful forest womb. The Echo Glen sits atop a very high ravine and far below it the Chagrin River cuts a deep swath through the ancient native lands. Many Solstice evenings ago when my son and nephew were very small I used to take them out into the glen to look for owls at midnight. We’d wander through the woods and see deer as well as the occasional fox or raccoon. I wish that I could bring you those wonderful smells, pennyroyal mint crushed underfoot and the snow drenched pine mingled with hot chocolate and the sweet smell of excited children who have been reveling in sugar cookies and gingerbread. Suddenly, the three of us would be taken by surprise by a great whoosh of wings overhead, sudden and unearthly quiet. Tor those of you who may never have seen one in the wild, the owl is a silent flyer who is usually only seen when he’s passing swiftly by. We’d stand very still, huddled warmly together and we’d wait for the hoots to begin! In those shared moments, I learned that magic is truly possible when allowed to bubble away happily in the cauldron of your heart. We three had so much fun stalking the wild things ever so quietly under the midwinter moonlight and trimming the trees with homemade pinecone ornaments of seed and peanut butter for the winter birds!
Alex and Michael are grown and we now celebrate Solstice eve with a marvelous party, filling the old century home with our friends and a feast , featuring a groaning board of casseroles and salads, fresh cheeses, roasts and hams and homemade desserts. Huge pots of soup simmer on the stove and I make spicy bourbon soaked eggnog covered with clouds of freshly whipped cream! Out will come the guitars and the drums and the fragrant bayberry and beeswax tapers are lit , infused with all of our intentions for a abundant year. The kitchen in my sisters home is rustic and beautiful, with a huge maple table in the center and a glorious hearth that spans almost the entire length of the space. As I lay the fire in the simple brick hearth Ellen unwraps the last bit of the Yule log that she’s saved from the year before and we all touch it , making our wishes for the coming New Year . We then put it in the center of the fire , light the kindling and lift our glasses, hugs and kisses and shared memories all around. Our guests stay for hours cocooned in this beautiful space and just enjoying the magic of being together once again. Many we only see this time of year, but it is always as if we’d never parted and although there are those dear to us who have passed beyond the veils of this present life they make themselves known on this most magical of nights. Many times during our party last year I could sense my mother, whose laughter was present all evening along with the sweet fragrance of her Shalimar perfume.
There’s so much to do and as I write this, my sister , Michael and his darling girlfriend Molly are dipping homemade cookies and dried fruits in dark chocolate and the fragrant cinnamon and applesauce Christmas tree ornaments that I’m baking in my kitchen smell incredible. On my counters dried fruits, fresh citrus and cinnamon sticks macerating in large jars filled with spiced rum and crystallized ginger are waiting patiently to be made into presents and fancy cocktails! Tomorrow I will make pomanders of fresh oranges and clove to tie with ribbons and hang from the tree and clove studded lady apples to simmer in apple cider, red wine and ale for a traditional wassail bowl. My dog Gabriel is sleeping quietly in the corner by the warm stove and my cats are curled up by the fire with not a care in the world and totally stoned on fresh catnip sent by a friend . I’m filled with the peace of another year gone by, sitting here watching the snow falling softly outside my kitchen window with Loreena McKennit ‘s “Midwinters Night Dream “playing on the stereo. Life is very very good and I am most grateful for it all . ( and right now I’m especially grateful for the vintage bottle of Carons lovely Nuit de Noel that’s coming my way way soon! Thank you Donna!)
I wish all of you a warm and cheery Solstice, a very Merry Christmas and a bountiful New Year filled with love, peace , joy ,marvelous perfumes and everything else that you could desire and more. I feel so blessed to have all of you in my life. Thank you for reading my words and letting me know that they’ve touched you. It means everything to me.
I am so thankful to Roxana Villa and her darling husband Gregory Spalenka for inviting me into their utterly fabulous world and making this incredibly vibrant Advent calendar possible. Please enjoy all of the other wonderful entries.
And finally, to our darling Marina without whom this wonderful place called Perfume Smellin Things simply wouldn’t be....I feel so blessed and incredibly honored that you have given my words a place to call home. Thank you for it all.
See you all next year!
Originally Published on Perfume Smellin Things
Food and Drink
Every now and then you are blessed with the gift of a perfume that is so truly wonderful that you feel that you could never live without it. For me, Eau d Italie’s luscious Jardin du Poete or The Poets Garden is that precious scent touching a very deep nerve and igniting my passions and my way too vivid imagination!
Jardin du Poete is a 2011 release by Eau d Italie that has been created for us by the absolutely brilliant Bertrand Duchaufour; a perfume so sumptuous, fresh and imaginative that from the moment I opened the bottle I had the feeling that I had been stolen from my life and dropped into the middle of a feisty historical romance.
I know that you know the type; a gorgeous and gossamer tale that is spun in the 17th century with a beautiful terraced garden and a wonderful heroine who dresses clothing made of finely spun silk and softened hemp; a women blessed with a mysterious duality born of royal blood but thoroughly modern for her day, rebellious to be sure but with quite a bit of a past. Her breasts are scented by the precious sprigs of sweet lavender, rose and helichrysum that she wears tucked within the folds of her gown and her breath is perfumed provocatively with the sweet smell of candied angelica root. To me she looks to be something created by the pre Raphaelites, beautiful and heavy lidded with soft full lips, a wild mane of hair and a bent towards a full throated laughter that is refreshing and more than a little bit bawdy .
When I first experienced Jardin du Poete, I shut my eyes and tried to take a long walk around the exquisite gardens that were instantly conjured up in my imagination and I quickly found myself standing in a walled garden overlooking a ledge somewhere near Mediterranean sea. Rows of herbs and dancing flowers, vegetables (I saw artichokes!) and espaliered fruit trees filled my mind and the salty sea scent of fresh basil with a blast of sweet grapefruit, spicy pink pepper and bitter orange was present in a very sensual and unexpected way. This is a perfume that I can taste as well as smell and I love that.
Many of you know of my love for cooking and my passion for perfume is always inextricably tied up with my passions for fabulous food. I would love to be sitting with my husband in this Poets Garden that I have seen in my dreams. We would be enjoying a decadent meal of Muscata and fresh figs, peeled oranges and creamy smooth burrata all spread onto thick slices of grilled crusty bread and drizzled with wild sage honey. That would be followed by a slowly roasted rosemary infused lamb shank, fresh young peas and a simple side of garlicky potatoes with a dipping sauce made of thickened fresh yogurt scented with lemon, sea salt and mint.
Of course this would all be eaten by candlelight by just the two of us wearing nothing but a soft cloud of this perfume, the warm ocean breezes and listening only to the soft lashing of the ocean and the symphony produced by the buzz of the honeybees.
Jardin du Poete is a truly unusual citrus fragrance in that it lasts for hours on my skin. The initial kick of the grapefruit and orange is juicy and delicious but then Jardin du Poete moves swiftly into an herbalists grimoire of angelica, basil and pink pepper. Vetiver, precious musks and a sweetly smoky cypress give this perfume a smoldering, wet sensuality that is hard to achieve in something so very fresh and green.
I know that you’ll love it so give it a try! It is a surprising perfume that dances from dusk til dawn easily and with more than a bit raw sexuality, pure elegance and grace.
Jardin du Poete is available in the United States through Lafco, New York and can be found online at their website and is 140. dollars for a 100ml. 3.3 ounce bottle.
Originally published on the Perfume Magazine
From The Women Who Paved My Way....
My mother's natural blue gray pearls were actually her mother’s pearls and her grandmother's and great grandmother’s before her. I inherited them when she died 3 years ago and they are beautiful, longer than opera length and even when wrapped in three strands they fall fluidly way beyond my breasts. These pearls are the loveliest silvery blue, the bewitching shade of the sea before a storm. Because they are natural pearls and at least 130 years old there is a whole other lineage of women that I'm linked to through them, Japanese free divers who often risked their lives to obtain these coveted beauties.
There was no other way to collect pearls before the 20th century and sometimes the divers had to go as deep as 40 to 125 feet into the sea and because of the extremely fickle nature of natural pearl growth, any pearls found were extremely rare. To harvest the pearls that I now call my own women that I've never met had to brave uncertain tides, dangerous creatures and hypothermia. More important even than the stories of these pearls are the untold stories that I will never know, but that I can feel. Women who had no other way to feed themselves became pearl divers and were probably paid what amounted to pennies to fashionably adorn my family’s bosoms and as glamorous as they make me feel I cannot wear them ever without acknowledging their true cost.
In 1983 on New Year’s Eve my mother let me wear them to a fabulous Black Tie dinner dance because she thought that they went beautifully with my silver-toned crushed velvet dress. Somewhere in the moments between the last dance and dawn I was seized by a bit of nostalgia. I picked up one of the strands, lifted them to my nose and inhaled their sweet/salty perfume. Surprisingly these pearls have never needed to be restrung and even though they are so very old are lustrous still and perfumed with the essence of all of the women who have treasured them before me. Sandalwood, violet, jasmine and rose and my mother’s Shalimar, which she wore until the day that she died. Maybe it’s my imagination but I’d swear to you that they still smell of the bottom of the sea. Even though I’d heard about all of them for so many years it was the evening that I truly met all of my maternal grandmothers for the very first time.
My maternal grandmother Frances died before I was born and was known to have loved rich oriental fragrances like sandalwood, patchouli as well as single Florals like violet , lilac and rose. She is the one that I am said to resemble the most in looks and spirit. She was a painter, one of the original artists in a notorious and somewhat scandalous Greenwich Village colony at the turn of the century, beautiful and very provocative, at least until she married my grandfather, a terribly sweet gentleman farmer from Champaign Urbana who was probably a very settling influence on her. Somewhere in all of my trunks and treasures there exists a worn and incredibly provocative and sepia photograph of a woman that I could recognize as myself wrapped naked in a bearskin rug, smiling and holding a long cigarette holder.
Taken over a century ago she is draped in yards of pearls that I recognize as my mother’s pearls... my pearls. As I fall backwards through time the distinct fragrance of her attar of violets, sandalwood perfume and tobacco seems to linger alongside her throaty laughter as she makes herself known to me through this delicious photograph. Her long auburn hair is swept up in gorgeous combs made of sandalwood, mother of pearl and 18 karat gold and is surely scented with the simple single floral perfumes of jasmine and rose that she preferred, nothing too heavy. I am told that she always knew just the right moment to undo the combs, letting her gorgeous hair cascade magically down around her face bringing with it a cloud of soft sweet scent. She must have been amazing.
My mother taught me to do this with my own long hair. Just one spray of a single floral note warmed in the hand with a drop of olive oil and then finger combed through from the temples back. Then take some beautiful hair combs and twist your hair up or back in a chignon, pull the front pieces back; whatever you like, but keep it simple, two combs maximum, one is the best. Then at the right moment, just smile, tilt your head, release your hair and toss it gently while never breaking your gaze. It’s an old fashioned sleight of hand but I promise, he won’t know what hit him. The simple floral perfume keeps it from seeming too obvious; your hair should just smell clean and pretty, not drenched with scent.
After she died, my mother inherited most of her mother’s jewelry and delighted in wearing the beautiful pearls as often as she could. She would always wear them draped against gray silk and satin, nestled against her chest. When I miss her the most I go to my jewelry box and put them on. They still smell a bit of her sweet almond soap and Shalimar perfume, a wonderful fragrance that’s lighthearted and giddy; the scent of a woman who was always the belle of the ball. My mother was quite beautiful and more than a little bit bewitching to my father who was quite besotted with her. I still remember watching the magic that passed between them as they’d leave the house together, excited for a wonderful evening out. My mother was one of the original Yardley English Lavender girls so she’d been taught that fine fragrance was a magic spell that needed to be wielded powerfully. She had many delicious secrets and her ritual for applying perfume was one that I still use to this day; one spray on the nape of the neck, one spray at the point where the soft flesh of the breasts meet and depending upon what she was wearing one spray at the ankles. “Remember darling” she’d say “Only just enough perfume to be enjoyed by the lucky fellow who is close enough to kiss you, never so much that it tosses you head first into the room.”
I loved all of my mother’s beauty rituals and over the years I’ve made most of them my own. To her and all of the women who came before her, baths and dressing rooms were the place where the glamour that they were known for was created. My mother took it all very seriously, this business of beauty. She took baths in lovely oils, forever eschewed showers and she always had scented candles burning in her bathroom. She loved floating feminine hemlines and she would always be sure to put a few drops of her perfume on them so that there was just a subtle scent when she moved through the room. It was she who taught me the easiest trick I know; that a few drops of vanilla mixed with a bit of fragrant bath oil rubbed into my breasts has the effect on any man of creating almost instantaneous and lasting hunger. She taught me how to apply my lipstick perfectly without a mirror, a nifty little trick that has never failed to disarm any man who just happened to be watching. When I married she gifted me with a sterling and tortoise shell comb, sable brush, mirror and instructions to never allow my husband to see me looking ill even if I felt like I was dying, advice that I've almost always heeded to this day. Her own husband rarely saw her without lipstick and even when she'd just woken up from open heart surgery. Her first words to me that moment were a breathy “Your father can't see me like this, did you bring my hairbrush, lipstick and perfume?" And of course because she was my mother I'd known that she'd want it immediately. He had to stand impatiently outside of the ICU until I'd made her up to her satisfaction, barely conscious she still had that sense of herself. She was a pretty smart woman. Some of you may be reading this and completely disapproving, but my parents were pretty happily married for 67 years. She definitely knew what she was doing!
Someday, I hope to have a granddaughter of my own with whom I will share all of the intimate secrets that my mother taught me. I will love those moments and share all of the family stories with great pleasure, especially the really wicked ones! Continuing the tradition started so long ago one day the lovely pearls and combs will be passed down to her , along with my collection of perfumes that I hope she will treasure. She will hopefully be blessed as all the women in my family have been with a wicked sense of humor and a penchant for naughtiness but if not the pearls will probably still fit her like a custom made glove. I don't wear them at all the same way as my mother did, she preferring blouses of flowing silk and I am most comfortable in Ralph Lauren. Yet I remember my mother wearing them once when I accidentally walked into my father’s studio late at night...she was lying naked on the couch draped only in the pearls and a soft cloud of Shalimar, as sensual as a beautiful odalisque in a museum. He was painting her and the canvas was fairly glowing with his adoration. I still have that painting, I've never forgotten that moment and I don't think that the pearls have either, immortalized as they were in love, linseed oil and canvas.
I know that it sounds terrifically romantic but I promise that it wasn’t the martinis. Those of us who are truly mesmerized by perfume can attest to its abilities to conjure visions at the deepest level of the soul. That was the moment that I became obsessed with scent as the catalyst for memories and began looking for other ways of wearing it, ways that were more meaningful to me as a woman than simply just spraying on the latest perfume that was currently in vogue.
Those pearls are among the most sensuous pieces of jewelry that I own, probably because they are forever imprinted with the souls of the women who wore them before me. My grandmother's were beautiful and worldly women with lavish tastes and hearty appetites for life and their men adored them. They had all sorts of wonderful tricks, seductive ways that kept their husbands enchanted with them for decades. Violet pastilles to keep their breath sweet and rose scented lip balm, leather gloves that were perfumed with precious oils so that every touch from their hand was as soft as petal and smelled just as sweet, orange flower and rose waters that were not only good for the skin but perfumed so that a cheek offered for a simple kiss became a soft pleasure for the lucky gentleman.
Many of the wonderful Indie perfumers that I’ve met are exploring this concept, recreating and bringing back age old traditions of scented waters and lip balms, exploring the connections between smell, memory, scent and sensuality in a way that is completely familiar and captivating. These days you can walk into almost any store and find a suitable bottle of perfume, but to me that’s just the beginning. Beautiful fragrance is made to be worn, not the other way around. My interest lies in finding new ways to accessorize myself with scent that are perhaps not quite as obvious.
Tomorrow evening I will take them dancing in Manhattan to the black tie wedding of a dear friend and because it is not yet New Years Eve I will still be wearing my beloved Caron Nuit de Noel. My dress is long and sewn of flowing black velvet, full sleeved and adorned with a faux sable collar that floats all around the top of the dress which is worn off the shoulders. Because it is such a romantic dress I have brought the combs for my hair and I am happy, almost giddy with anticipation of a wonderful evening spent in the arms of my boyishly handsome husband. As I write this somewhere my mother is smiling...She would most definitely approve.
Authors note: If you have lovely pearls of your own please remember not to put them on before you apply your fragrance because it’s not good for them to come into direct contact with the fragrant oils or hairspray. The little bit on your skin or clothes will be just fine.
Originally published in The Perfume Magazine
When I was a kid Easter dinner was something that I really looked forward to because my mother pulled out all of the stops. I think that she really loved the holiday ; as a young woman growing up in the small town of Champaign in Illinois there wasn’t much in the way of a Jewish Community so she had the distinct pleasure of being able to celebrate any of the holidays that she wanted. I think that they always celebrated Passover but that was about it for the Jewish traditions and if you’ve ever spent anytime at all in a small town, you know that the communities live for their holidays. My mom used to talk all of the time about the 4th of July parades and the door to door Christmas caroling, but what she loved the most were the May Day baskets that she made for her neighbors and the huge Easter dinners that her mother would prepare complete with colored eggs, hidden Easter baskets and her famous floating Island pudding!
My mothers Easter dinners were every bit as lavish as her mothers and absolutely beautiful. When I’d wake up on Easter morning fresh daffodils, honeysuckle (my mothers favorite!) and lilacs would be everywhere and she’d be standing in the kitchen slicing fresh garlic to tuck into the leg of lamb. The scent of her house was always amazing and her windows would be thrown open to let in the fresh spring air. The table would be already be set with her mothers lovely white and gold Haviland dishes and a flowered cloth and her sterling would be gleaming and laid out on the sideboard ready for me to set it into order along with the sparkling water and white wine goblets that were waiting alongside. I always knew that she was happy because she’d be humming old show tunes……a sure sign that she was relaxed and enjoying herself! The dinner itself was always completely delicious, lamb, potatoes and fresh asparagus, fresh pickled beets and hard boiled eggs and usually a chilled pea and fresh mint soup or a fresh carrot soup in honor of the Easter bunny that she’d scented with a bit of lemon, parsley and ginger!
After I’d peeled the hard boiled eggs for her pickled beets I would run off happily to find my Easter basket which she always hid in the most ingenious places. My mother loved games and she was quite good at them! After about a half an hour of hunting I’d finally find it. Her Easter baskets were legendary! She always filled mine with the newest Breyer horse model and lots of chocolate and spice (never fruit!) jelly beans. She always picked the black ones out. That was our game ! She loved the black licorice ones and I hated them so If I saved them all for her then she’d be sure to give me an extra helping of the purple clove scented ones which I adored.
And then there was the lamb cake!
We had a very famous bakery in town until about 20 years ago called The Hough Bakery. Native Clevelanders are known to get tears in their eyes and wax nostalgically over the thought of a Hough Bakery birthday cake. In this era of Food Network stars and fancy bakeries and cakeries there still isn’t anything quite as good as a Hough cake. I don’t know what it was that made them seem so special, but special they were. A Hough birthday cake was the perfect combination of almondy , fluffy moistness with sugary crunchy frosting, nothing like those funny whipped frostings that seem to be the only things that you can buy these days. They personalized everything and if you gave them pictures or ideas they would replicate entire scenes on their flat sheet cakes. I remember one particularly satisfying birthday when my cake was a managerie of all of my animals from my ponies to my cats with a huge “Happy Birthday Beth” on the blue ribbon fluttering gaily on the ponies bridle! Such is the stuff that wonderful childhood memories are made of.……
Aside from the most amazing mushroom pie that I’ve ever tasted to this day, Hough Bakery made several wonderful confections for Easter like almond and honey scented petit fours in the shape of eggs and decorated with that delightful sugary glaze frosting and sugar flowers as well as a spring basket made of a wonderful white cake and covered with huge mounds of colorful frosting flowers. But, as all Cleveland kids of a certain age know, the most luscious treat of all was the sacred Easter lamb cake!
The Hough bakery lamb cake was delicious and definitely shaped like a lamb, covered with mounds of fluffy white frosting. It was a constant thing on my mothers table and year after year lay peacefully on its bed of shredded coconut, tinted green to be grass with yummy sugar flowers in it’s pasture and jelly beans galore! My mom put it on her mothers lovely silver tray and placed in the center of the table, the guest of honor at her lovely Easter dinner! It smelled incredible, just like butter almond , honey , spun sugar and violet pastilles.
I have many memories of those days but the most wonderful would be the day that she hid my Easter basket underneath the Honeysuckle bush that was in full bloom that Easter. I fortunately wasn’t allergic to bees, because that bush was covered with them, but it was huge and fragrant and I was little enough to still believe in flower fairies (well I still do actually!) and I spent the whole morning laying underneath it’s boughs , galloping my plastic horses around and gorging on spicy jellybeans and chocolate until I was almost sick!
That treasured memory came rushing back to me the other day when I received a sample of Mandy Aftels absolutely gorgeous Honey Blossom perfume. I carried Mandy’s first book, Essence and Alchemy around with me for days after I read it, loath to put it down and later on when I became even more involved in the world of natural perfumes I began to seek out her fragrances. Honey Blossom is my favorite to date and the transcendent Linden beauty lingers on my skin like a sheer caress of spring wind. I adore Linden fragrances and Honey Blossom is absolutely that , but really so much more. When I wear it I get swept away by the linden but then I fall madly in love with the orange blossom and what seems to be something altogether magical like jasmine , but a fairy kissed jasmine which is almost a bit sugary and devilish , like jasmine that’s just dripping with a white truffled honey.
Afteliers Honey Blossom is an exquisite blend of alchemy and high fragrance art . It is beguiling and utterly flirtatious but oddly comforting too. It instantly returns me to the memories of the home that I grew up in. My parents had gorgeous gardens that they created themselves and they were always bit wild , a little untamed. Honey Blossom IS the scent of those gardens and my version of Dorothy’s ruby slippers. Three drops and I am aloft in the springtime winds, landing gently at the base of that beautiful honeysuckle from so long ago.
This year, Mandy Aftel has been nominated for not one , but THREE FiFi awards in the Consumers Choice Niche Perfume Category. This is a fabulous honor not only for Mandy but all of the incredible perfumers who inhabit my beloved world of Natural Perfumery! Honey Blossom is one of the distinguished finalists and this is the first time ever that one natural perfume let alone three has ever been nominated for such a prestigious award! For more information and instructions on how you can vote please click here! http://fifiawards.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/the-2011-consumers-choice-award/#more-2278
Now for the fun part! I have a wonderful Easter present for one of you. Mandy has generously sent me a beautiful sample of Honey Blossom and three of her incredible Chefs essences, Ginger, Black Pepper and Litsea Cubeba! The ginger is magnificently gingery yet a bit floral and just one drop enhances my mothers recipe for carrot soup to perfection. I also like it mixed into a bit of sparkling water and agave nectar for a delightful home made ginger ale! The black pepper essence is a sensory delight, a savory yet spicy fresh pepper that I tried in my recipe for Bordeaux poached pears. The result was a pear that melted I my mouth with the right bit of zing, not heat. Served over fresh vanilla bean vegan ice cream it was was incredible! The Litsea Cubeba is lemony and spicy all at the very same time. One drop stirred into a glass of Iced tea is sublime , but one drop of the essence stirred into a vinaigrette and laced over an arugula and raw goat cheese salad is absolutely and ridiculously delicious. Mandy tells me that she searches the world for the very best quality essences and with one taste you know that she’s completely serious about it. These are incredible and my darlings please remember …only a drop because they are strong. These bottles will last a long time if you keep them in a cool dry place.
If you want a chance a this incredible prize draw just leave me a comment and share with me one of your favorite Easter (or Passover) memories!
One last thing….. The winner of the luscious lavender syrup for The Springtime Cocktail Party Foodie Sunday is Katherine! Just contact Marina at the address on the right!
Easter Basket cake photograph courtesy of Archies Lakeshore Bakery. Honey Blossom perfume images used with permission of Mandy Aftel. Honeysuckle Fairy Image courtesy of flowerfairyprints.com
Originally published on Perfume Smellin Things
Happy Foodie Sunday! The first and best news is that since we were last together is that I’ve lost 7 pounds! Yes you heard me! 7 glorious pounds! I’m learning so much about the way that I eat and I will admit that it hasn’t been without its ups and downs. I woke up in the middle of the night just now realizing that I’d been hiding from the world for the last 9 years under all of this belly fat. I haven’t accomplished yet many of the things that I want to in this lifetime and I’m 52. Peeling away this layer of armor is exposing all of the tender places and I’m scared, but I’m definitely ready. I’m definitely trying to figure out who and what I’m going to be when I grow up! Any thoughts? I'm willing to listen to all suggestions!
Like I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I’m not using any particular cleanse. For years I’ve tried everything, but not with any lasting results. I’ve decided to create my own lifestyle, using a combination of the French techniques that I love, Asian foodie wisdom and a bit of alchemy. Alcohol is definitely on my mostly avoid list because I’ve discovered that it actually holds my weight in place. We’re using one night to splurge, which is a tremendous amount of fun! One night doesn’t destroy the diet but I must admit that I’m always happy the next morning to go back to the plan because now that my body is used to eating smaller portions of really good food I always feel a bit bloated. Thank goodness for my amazing husband. I just don’t know that I’d keep this up without his support. He’s convinced me though that I’ll like the end result even more than he will which keeps me going even when I’m this terrified. Did I mention that I even worked out by myself last week? That’s huge for me! Jim had the flu and I went anyhow. I can’t believe how hard that was to do, but my reward was a soak in the whirlpool and some time in the steam room and that was heaven.
Herbs and spices play a huge role in this diet and this particular way of cooking serves them well. I use herbs and spices not just for flavor, but for their healing properties and actually one little known part of my life is that I trained for over 10 years with one of the most amazing herbalists I’ve ever known, the classic “good witch with the cottage in the woods” , a wise woman named LaWanna Rine.
La Wanna taught me that food IS medicine, long before it became chic to think that way! Everything brewing in her kitchen had a purpose and she wildcrafted most of it, just as do I to this day except when the snow is flying. In the heart of winter, that’s what Penzeys herbs and spices are for and if you’ve never tried them, they’re absolutely wonderful. Their spice and herb blends can make a decent cook out of anyone, even those who thinks that they can’t cook. A trip to the Penzeys store is a fantastic experience and I take people there to teach them about herbs and flavor. Everything is incredibly fresh and just like the glass cloches that are currently so popular in fine fragrance or candle stores, when you lift the lid on a Penzeys jar you’ll get the pure , fresh perfume ofperfectly stored herbs.
I do use supplements but my tastes prefer my herbs as close to the origins as possible so when I can get them that way that’s all I’ll use. Real food is live food and that’s what I believe that you need to create real wellness. Right now I get up every morning and pretend that I’m at a lovely spa. I make my cup of Earl Grey tea and flavor it with a delicious and creamy raw honey. Sometimes I have juice and sometimes I have fresh oatmeal that I prepare with almond milk, cinnamon and fresh berries. My husband was the every day bowl of cereal type and now I’m experimenting with all kinds of foods for breakfast, like smoked salmon with fresh dill instead of bacon or vegan breakfast burritos with fresh citrus salsas and guacamole. It not only has to taste good, but it needs to look and smell wonderful or we all know that I’m not going to eat it and instead start binging once again on bacon and brie!
I’ve discovered that the key to success here is to cook our food myself. Going out is always lovely, but there are several things that I’ve discovered. For starters it’s true, unless you have someone to share it with the portions in this countryARE way too big. Secondly and even more important to the success of this program is the fact that even good restaurants accentuate flavor with all sorts of added naughtiness like too much butter, cream and a bit of sugar here and there. That’s fine for splurge night but not for everyday fare. I’m enjoying the challenge of preparing good food, with great ingredients and fabulous natural flavors. For me cooking is alchemical, much in the same way that many of the natural perfumers that we love create their fragrances. A bit of sage, a pinch of fresh rosemary and a few lavender buds stewed with a bit of white potato and leek turn a simple chicken breast into a fragrant and soothing dish that settles my stomach easily.
That same chicken breast, piece of tofu or fish when it’s quickly stir fried in my Le Creuset Wok with a bit of bok choy, sweet potato, onion, minced garlic, chopped peanuts , cayenne, cinnamon, ginger and allspice turns into a very warming dish that doesn’t need anything extra in the way of carbs and is completely satisfying on a really cold evening without any of the bloating side effects. For anyone allergic to peanuts I’ve discovered spicy tamari pumpkin seeds; these are so satisfying for anyone with a groundnut allergy.
Fresh butternut squash baked with fresh sage, ginger, a bit of Earth Balance “butter” and a bit of maple syrup relaxes me completely and makes me feel like I’m eating dessert! You can take that same squash recipe and puree it with some coconut milk and pour the whole thing into an ice cream maker. Serve it with crystallized ginger sprinkled on top and if you can find it, some fresh mochi. If you can’t find fresh mocha, whole foods has a terrific prepared mochi (a pounded rice paste) that comes in a pack and is ready to use. Just slice into bite size pieces and bake according to the directions. Dust it with a bit of Chinese 5 spice powder and a bit of “Butter “ and some honey. This is one of my sweet secrets, absolutely delicious, fragrant and so good for you!
For me, the final piece of the puzzle is presentation. Make it beautiful , make sitting down at the table a feast for the senses! Make sure you sit down to eat, put everything on a pretty plate, use a cloth napkin (so much better for the environment) and treat yourself well because you’re worth it! Buy a crystal goblet or two and use them for everything, even water! Turn on somemusic. Chew and breathe ; as my mother used to say "relax and make every day into a day for candles and wine"! Dress up a bit and dab on some fabulous perfume, today I'm wearing Tom Fords utterly luscious Tobacco Vanille which is the equivalent of dessert in a flacon. This is about having a real relationship with your food and allowing it to nurture and love you back. If you’re joining me on this journey, please leave a comment and let me know how you’re doing! It’s great to have such good friends to share this with and I’m thankful for you all!
Eat Well, Be Well, Live and Love well!
Penzey's can be found at penzeys.com
Originally PUblished at Perfume Smellin Things
|Today I’m thinking about my mother, who died three years ago but is still very present in almost everything I do. I hear her voice when I’m cooking and can’t find the right spices and I cook her specialties regularly. I totally miss her mashed potatoes, a secret that she took with her to great test kitchen in the sky. She was a really great cook , nothing fancy, just simply gorgeous food and she WAS the Barefoot Contessa long before Ina Garten even thought about picking up a chefs knife. She could throw a party for 50 without a fuss. My mom was a working woman but it was her way to have dinner every night at the dinner table, with candles, wine and cloth napkins. By the way did you know that if you want to use clothnapkins but dread ironing them that all you need is a brick? This was one of my mothers best tricks…she kept a brick right by her dryer and when the napkins came out she’d fold them while still warm, stack them and then place the brick on top leaving her with perfectly pressed, ready to use napkins at anytime!
My mother is the reason that I can cook and I loved watching her in the kitchen. She could throw a dinner party on a moments notice because she was always prepared to entertain. She had one part of her freezer and pantry stocked especially for such occasions and always kept her bar ready for drop- in guests. I still do too because you never know who’s coming through the door and for me just like my mother before me, Food= Love. She taught me that entertaining well didn’t have to do with how grand a spread you put out, but everything to do with how welcome you make your guests feel. A wedge of runny Brie with some crackers and a tin of smoked oysters and a bowl of camponata were her staples, she always had them around as well as a loaf of thin white Pepperidge Farm tea sandwich bread. A simple tomato bisque, usually from a can, enriched with a touch of cream, flavored with sherry and served in her mothers demitasse cups, became another great conversation starter. When you have an entire roomful of people who don't really know each other well, talking about the different cup patterns really does work as an ice breaker!
She also always kept a bag of frozen shrimp which she could thaw in an instant. Take those shrimp, mix them up with about 1/2 a cup of Hellmans mayonnaise and a 1/2 a cup of sour cream, add about 5 tablespoons of chopped fresh chives and season with cayenne, Worcestershire sauce and a dash of salt and pepper. Stir and serve with little forks or toothpicks and buttered toast points. Those 5 things, arranged graciously and set on her coffee table with pretty little plates a good bottle of wine or champagne and a vase of flowers were simple, delicious and satisfying. If you don’t have flowers, walk out into the garden , scoop up a few posies that you’ve planted dirt and all and repot them in some pretty tea cups. I promise that they’ll never notice that they’ve been gone for the short time that you’ll have them inside!
When I’m teaching people to plan simple parties I always encourage them to have a signature cocktail that they can throw together at the drop of a hat. Mine is a delicious mixture of things that I always have around, lemon soda, Crème de violette (this is succulent heady stuff all you perfumistas!), limoncello, citron vodka, peach bitters and blackberries, fresh when in season, frozen when not! Just take a tall glass, fill with ice and a few of the blackberries. Then pour a jigger of citron vodka into it, and a tablespoon each of the crème de violette and limoncello. Top off with the lemon soda, a dash of the blood orange bitters and garnish with some fresh thai basil. That’s all! A signature drink that you can whip up in an instant kicks off the conversation on a surprise evening beautifully!
I guess that I’m saying all of this because to me it’s more important with whom you’re eating than what you’re eating and I want you to always feel comfortable having people in your home and enjoying their company. My mother had tricks that made it easy to entertain well and she was always prepared to use them. I think that we miss a lot of opportunities for relatedness because we’re so concerned more with what it looks like instead of simply just enjoying ourselves and life’s just too short. The world is spinning faster than ever before and now more than ever we need to sit down , break some bread together, drink some good wine and really talk about what matters. Don’t be intimidated, just try it! Trader Joe's is a great source for appetizers that you can keep in your freezer and serve at a moments notice. Go to TJ Maxx and get a few good glasses, some pretty little plates and some napkins. Keep it all in a special place and don’t touch it except for occasions like these. You’ll thank me, I promise.
Happy Mothers Day to you wherever you are and whomever your with. All of us are mothers to something or someone. If you’ve ever given birth to a great idea, or a project you’re a mother. If you’re gay and you have a child , you’re a mother. If you’ve got a dog, cat or even a chicken you’re a mother. You don’t need a uterus to be celebrated today, just a whole lot of love.
I love you all and hope that you have a wonderful Mothers Day! How are you going to celebrate it? Send me your signature cocktail recipe in the comments and I'll choose my favorite and send the lucky winner a bottle of my favorite blood orange bitters!
Photo of Crème De Violette from www.thekitchn.com
Photo of Camponata from www.wellonwheels.blogspot.com
Photo of Family from source unknown
Originally published in Perfume Smellin Things