I had a really interesting zoom conversation last night with my sisters -in- law and we were talking about the difficulties experienced as women trying to stay safe and keep our families safe during Covid, when so many are seemingly loosening up their personal boundaries and personally interpreting the guidelines.
We talked about feeling ashamed for not speaking up when someone who isn’t wearing a mask gets too close, or comes too close when wearing the mask improperly.
The endless mansplaining about how we're being too careful or taking this too seriously without listening to our concerns.
About being so happy to have husbands that listened and supported us, stepping up to the plate and helping to raise the kids, make craft cocktails and even cook dinners!
I was so proud of my husbands courage the other night when we were having dinner and he simply and quietly asked a gentleman we didn’t know was going to be there where he’d been in the last few weeks.
Neither man was offended or upset and it gave the other man room to be honest without feeling threatened. We had a lovely and safe evening. I was truly inspired by it and watching it helped embolden me.
As women, we tend to simply "behave" and then wonder why we did so, living with self loathing instead of empowerment. Feeling violated because we didn't stick up for our beliefs.
Shrinking, instead of dancing.
From now on I will remember to take a deep breath and simply choose courage.
I had a chance to think about this more yesterday when I had a bad experience again yesterday at the very same garden center it happened at before...I was determined to give them another try out of 30 plus years of loyalty. The manager actually took down her mask less than three feet from me and took my plants. I scooted away and then came back to pay for them and she did it again, but was fortunately behind plexiglass.
The entire time I was wearing my mask. I was really disconcerted and angry and what I realized I should have done was simply leave, but I was too busy being polite to do so. I called them back to politely let them know how I felt, and was met with absolutely no apology and instead was hung up on.
Needless to say they’ve lost a customer that spends thousands of dollars with them every year.
After processing that experience and the conversation my SIL’s and I had, as well as a full night of Covid dreams where I kept being infected by people who were moving into my personal space , I woke up feeling stronger than I've felt in weeks.
I realized something important for myself.
I’m tired of being shamed or laughed at because I’m choosing to stay as safe as I can for my family and my friends. I've had even close friends tell me that I was taking this overboard, making it seem as if I'd succumbed to silly and unsubstantiated fear. That this was no different than a flu or cold.
No...That’s me exercising my own freedoms.
If you don’t wear a mask and /or keep the social distance in the middle of this, you absolutely know what you are choosing for yourself and that is absolutely fine, but you do not get to choose it for me or my family.
I may not agree with you but if you want to play with this virus in that way that’s up to you.
If you take down your mask when I’m wearing mine and move in close, you’re disrespecting my freedoms to try to stay as healthy as I can... you’re coming into my personal space, potentially with a contagion that can’t be seen and unless you’re part of my Covid clan I don’t know where you’ve been.
As I've said before, I wouldn’t dream of sleeping with you without an STD test AND a condom, so I certainly won't risk a Covid infection by breathing your invisible aerosolized droplets.
If you don’t want to wear a mask or if you choose to wear it incorrectly, that’s your business to be sure, but please do not take it personally when I walk away from you, even if we’re friends. If I’m spending my hard earned cash with you? Wear the mask and wear it right. Keep a social distance. Wash your hands and sanitize your spaces. You’re dealing with an entire public, not just a segment of it that believes as you do.
If you need to take the mask off, go take a break or put it on as soon as you see me drive in. Open doors so that the air can circulate. For goodness sakes, do it right so that I can help you stay in business during this tough time.
If you are hard of hearing? Wear a face shield and keep a pad of paper and pen around. I will happily write down what I want to say if you can't hear me.
Please don't try to hug me without asking me first and please don't be offended when I say no...I want to more than anything but right now I just won't.
If I’m wearing a mask you know how I feel , so if you want to talk to me please put yours on and if you won’t get at least 15 feet away from me or call me on the phone to chat.
Trust me. I want to talk to you, but please stop forcing me to be uncomfortable and angry with you. If you are uncomfortable with this, I can leave and will do so for your benefit.
Learn to speak with your eyes....they tell me and you VOLUMES about who WE are together. This is a new an unfamiliar world. How we shape it and love within it right now will determine so much about the next year or two.
Remember . This is a VIRUS. It's not personal.
I love you.
I honestly do not know who Doctored these old paintings, but I am eternally grateful:)
My Dear Friends,
I hope that May finds you safe, healthy and warm....
I have found real solace in my kitchen, family and my garden. It feels wonderful to be spending this much time at home.. I feel like a little bit like a Brambly Hedge mouse!
I’ve been enjoying Zoom sessions with my family and I’m sure that many of you have been too! Tea parties with my friends and happy hours have become the new normal. Thank goodness we have this wonderful technology to enjoy each other with.
And then there's the garden!
I’m building a huge victory garden patterned after the blueprints I found of my fathers after he died and I’m working on my little Herban Farm and a new business that I've always dreamed of that I've named The Herban Stillroom. The trees in my orchard are blooming and I’ve got two bare root Apothecary Roses soaking to plant on each side of my grape arbor. My big experiment this season is to try to naturalize my own patch of ramps. They are notoriously fussy so we’ll see how that goes!
A lot of people have been asking me what I’ve been doing to support my immunity during these uncertain times.
First and foremost? The same simple things that hopefully you've all been doing! Wearing crazy and wonderful hand sewn masks..mask sewn with love from my family and friends. I've been washing my hands with delicious fat and fragrance filled hand soaps and I carry homemade hand sanitizer scented with thyme, oregano, cinnamon, lavender and lemon and I've been social distancing...learning to say even more with eyes and my words so that the hugs are not missed.
Really, the most important things for me are the simplest things…Lots of love and laughter, 8 hours of sleep, some extra zinc and vitamins C and D. Lots of fresh vegetables, especially onions, garlic and ramps, plenty of relaxation, yoga and hydration consisting of spa waters and lots of lovely pots of tea made with my favorite of the anti-viral supporting botanicals: rose petals, star anise, white pine needles and lemon balm.
All of these blended together into a tea with lots of violet infused honey are absolutely delicious and are traditionally thought to be supportive of your immune system.
Most people don’t realize this but the common blue violet we all love is thought to be a wonderful support tonic for the respiratory system. It has been used in Europe for centuries as a pulmonary remedy for bronchitis and a dry hacking cough. Both the flowers and leaves can be made into syrups, poultices, compresses and salves and they can be infused into honey and vinegar.
Currently I’m picking them and infusing them into honey. It’s easy to do. Just pick your violets, make sure they’re clean and pack them into a jar. Cover them with fresh honey for a couple of days. Stir a spoonful of the honey and violets into a cup of tea. Enjoy!
Some people can be very allergic to these plants so please take that into consideration before using or serving any herbal teas.
Last but not least, after speaking today with my brother in law who is an infectious disease specialist and my nephew the ER Doctor, I wanted to pass along one very practical suggestion for your consideration. The pneumonia associated with COVID- 19 is a sneaky thing and I am told that it can, in certain circumstances actually begin before you have really bad respiratory symptoms.
Their hope is that everyone in this country will begin using a fingertip pulse oximeter at home, so that oxygen saturation can be checked and a personal baseline established. I guess current thinking at this time is that if you know sooner than later that your oxygen saturation levels are dropping you can call your Doctor faster and potentially stay off the ventilator. They call it “the silent symptom”. Pulse Oximeters are easy to find online and inexpensive. I purchased one this morning and I have to admit that it gave me a bit of comfort to do so. Just a thought I wanted to pass along because you just never know.
Please be well and stay safe. If there is anything that I can do for any of you please do not hesitate to ask.
“Tra la, it's May, it’s May, the lusty Month of May
That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray
Tra la, it's here, it’s here, that shocking time of year
When tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear
Whence this fragrance wafting through the air?
What sweet feelings does its scent transmute?
Whence this perfume floating everywhere?
Don't you know, it's that dear forbidden fruit,
It's May! It's May!
The month of "yes you may,"
The time for ev'ry frivolous whim,
Proper or "im."
It's wild! It's gay!
A blot in ev'ry way.
The birds and bees with all of their vast
Gaze at the human race aghast,
The lusty month of May. “
From Camelot ~ Lerner & Loewe
I first became aware of the importance of the Beltane fires in my life through a dream. I awoke one morning, in the arms of my husband and he looked at me in surprise and asked me about the fires. “What fires “ I said… and then I remembered. I guess that I’d been talking in my sleep. In my dream we had been standing together in a place that seemed to be a castle of sorts. I was wearing some sort of linen night dress and he had come up behind me. I knew that it was him in the way that time and place meld together in the dream state, but he was ruddier with longer flaxen hair that was flowing back in the wind.
He looked at me with the same deep blue eyes that he has now with a gaze that at that moment transcended lifetimes and said “they are lighting the fires and are in the fields, but he wants the fires to be gone, he is sending them”. All I remember is the night falling and hearing passionate sighs from the plowed fields beyond.
I remember saying “Tell him that I said that he WILL allow the fires to burn” and shortly after that I remember falling into his arms and wandering hand in hand out towards the fields. I woke up naked and in a cold sweat. I knew that the mysterious “he” was someone of the church, who was trying to destroy my beloved “old ways”. I knew then that I’d known my husband in some other time or place where we’d been bound together by a spirituality that had its roots planted deep within the earth. I promised myself at that moment that for as long as it was in my power, the fires would never be allowed to go out.
Beltane or Beltaine as the Irish speak of it is a lusty and passionate holiday full of surprises and all kinds of wonderful. None of us know what the Goddess has in store for us today, but I can promise you that if you are open to her magic you will enjoy every minute of it. Do be careful though…lots of sweet little babies are conceived today. That’s my only warning, but you'd be wise to heed it....not that you'll really be able to control the outcome. Trust me she will always have her way!
Beltane is the time that marks the beginning of the most fertile season of the year. Cattle were driven up to higher, greener grounds and passions burned on May the 1st like the ancient ritual fires that were lit to celebrate the sowing of seed, both physically in the newly plowed fields and during the times of the old religions through an ecstatic sexual union of the sacred feminine and her masculine counterpart, the great horned God. Every year on this day, the great wheel of the year would turn once more towards summer and massive bonfires would be built.
Men and women lay together in the fields cloaked only in the smoke, exhausting their passions over and over again with the intention of creating a potent ritual that would ensure an abundant harvest. There would be feasting as well as dancing around a beautifully beribboned May Pole and it was a time of celebrating all forms of fertility, love and lust. Babies conceived during the sacred Beltane union were considered blessed by the goddess herself.
Centuries later we really haven't changed all that much. Bonfires, gardens and woodsmoke can still stoke our passions as well as insure our very survival. We still plant our vegetables every spring and wish for enough rain and sun to help our gardens grow. Although we have long since harnessed the power of the flame and made it manageable, I've yet to find any oven that stirs my food lust like the warmth of an open flame. I long for a wood burning clay oven in my kitchen where I can bake fresh crusty bread, clafoutis aux cerises and fresh pizza!
This is the time of year when all the trees are blooming, flowers and wild potherbs are appearing all over the fields and forests as if by magic. The honeybees have reappeared and are busy making love to the fragrant blossoms and with luck we will find our trees filled with ripe fruits come fall. We till our gardens and plant the seed that we’ve saved from last year’s harvest and we take long walks outside, grateful that the sun has finally come again and brought with it a deep rich warmth.
You needn’t go too far back into your imagination to see that centuries ago, these simple things would have seemed deeply magical to our ancestors. Sometimes, I think that it would serve us well to embrace the same simple wonder that they did, an excitement that comes from enjoying a life of following the seasons simply and passionately. For me, springtime is marked by so many things that I look forward to, knowing that they will not pass through my life until the wheel comes full circle again. The beautiful fragrant violets, the precious lilacs and viburnums…wild ramps with their deep oniony flavor and fiddlehead ferns! Fresh pea tendrils, daffodils and the very first dandelion greens that I love to harvest for salads.
In a class by itself comes the freshest spring asparagus. I can’t think of anything more wonderful than a meal of steamed asparagus and a silky tarragon laced béarnaise sauce. Living as locally as possible and respecting the seasons and the presents that each one brings is not only a healthy way to eat, but a holistic way to live.
The first thing I did when we bought our home in Cleveland Heights was put in an asparagus bed. An asparagus bed is one of natures most useful clocks. When my first thick shoots of asparagus come up, I know that spring is truly and finally here. Several years ago all of my asparagus came up in March and I knew that we were in for a very interesting year. Even in this interesting Spring, it’s right on time. Nature has a magic all her own and for the ancients Beltane was a reminder to stop and pay attention to those thundering rhythms.
For me one of the greatest joys of the merry month of May were always the flowers that would bloom in my parents’ gardens. They grew many beautiful flowers but none were more precious to me than the beautiful patch of lilies of the valley that grew behind the terrace in a secret place that only a few knew about. I’d wait and wait and then every year on the 1st of May I would run into the back and there they would be, pure little bells of white with strong green leaves just begging me to bury my face into their flowers and inhale their sweet green scent.
All of these beautiful greens and flowers come but once a year in a fashion that is fleeting and beautiful. I think that if I could have them all year round it would be a disappointment to me, because the yearning for them is every bit as delightful. Besides, every season has its pleasures and treasures. Crabapple trees and their fragrant blooms can only come in May, but their fruits are late August’s treasures. The old-fashioned roses in my gardens that bloom so abundantly will produce generous rose hips for my tea in September. To everything there is a season, and to every time a purpose. The joy that May Day brings is the abundant renewal of life and passion. Make love and give love generously on this day. Gifts of flowers and bright May Baskets are traditional gifts of love that are perfect. Make paper cones with your children, fill them with flowers, put them on your neighbor’s front door and let them guess! If it’s a beautiful evening spread a blanket outside, light lots of candles and have a picnic!
Then put the children to bed and go back outside if you dare….
Today is the day that we light the ritual fires once again with the intent to create life, celebrate our passion and ensure the fertile harvest not only of our fields, but of our souls. Feed each other juicy fruits, other luscious things and make love with abandon, spend time in the fields, wander into the wilderness of your hearts and get lost there for more than a little while. Keep a little magic with you always and more than a touch of mystery. Remember that it’s the very things that we don’t really know that can bring us the most joy and above all remember to be glad...very glad to be alive , especially this year. Life is juicy, fragrant and sometimes bittersweet. Life is also all about taking risks with your passions. Be a little naughty, enjoy your wildness, but remember what I said, because the Goddess WILL always have her way……..
Natures Embrace- By Josephine Wall
Asparagus- Beth Schreibman Gehring
My Dear friends,
My goodness, what 7 short days can do. Last week at this time I was planning my herb gardens, reiki sessions and tea parties and then suddenly the world was upended by an invisible marauder.
First, because so many of you have written to ask me about my son and his wife. After many pleas from myself, my sister and my nephew in Paris I finally received the call from Alex a couple of weeks ago. “Mom, we want to come home for awhile. New York feels really frightening. We don’t know how to do it though…even going out to rent a car feels terrifying.”
Two hours later Jim and I loaded both of our cars with food, masks, Clorox wipes, cat carriers and hand sanitizer and drove into New York like a thieves in the night. I have never seen it so desolate. We pulled up to my son’s apartment in Queens at 10:00 pm, double parked both cars and threw the keys to Alex from 10 feet away.
Then we sat in our car and waited. At midnight we all left the city for the unforeseeable future. They are now safely in quarantine at my sister’s cabin with their two cats and Alex’s fish tank. They are safe and I am so grateful to my family for helping me create this space for them. My beloved New York is a war zone, but they are home. 8 hours later Governor Cuomo began the process of shutting down the city showing me once again that instincts and timing are everything.
These are truly scary times but there is a huge BUT here.
I guess that my point for all of us is that we do what we can do when we are called to and we can do so much, even isolated in our homes.
We were made for these times.
If you are one of my readers, I KNOW you.
We are the gardeners and the healers. We know how to make teas that soothe and herb blends that help make even the simplest foods feel special. We know how to use our herbs to support immunity, wellness and healing. We know how to preserve the harvest. We know how to create beauty with our flowers and leaves. The most important thing that we know how to do? We know how to build gardens big and small, full of herbs, fruits and vegetables.
This is our magic.
These are the timeless and important skills that we know and teach. These are the skills that right now the world needs to heal and to begin to hope again.
I know who my readers are. I know your capacity for giving, for teaching and for joy. I know all of your gifts and your gifts are what is needed to help heal this terribly frightened world right now. We can help.
We have the opportunity to make such a difference right now sitting at our desks. Reach out. Our entire world community needs to learn our skills.
This is how we can make a difference right now and in this time of isolation it could be one of the most important things we’ve ever done for someone that we’ve never met.
I love and miss you all so much. Take good care of yourselves. I am here and well, if you need anything at all.
Stay Home and Stay Safe.
Beth Schreibman Gehring aka The Windsphere Witch
Good afternoon everyone! Wherever this finds you , I hope that it finds you well and happy, safely surrounded by your loved ones!
I've written this article in response to an email that has been making the rounds concerning the possibility of elderberry products exacerbating the dangerous phenomenon that is known as the Cytokine Storm, which we are hearing about constantly right now as we are learning more and more about COVID-19. This email was sent to me last night, but this wasn’t the first I’d heard of the concern about elderberry and cytokine storm. I'm a herbalist who likes to work with the medical community, even though I’ve always been a proponent of traditional herbalism.
For me, simply getting the facts without demonizing a generally helpful herb just makes sense. What I discovered when doing the research the other day for someone else who brought this concern to me, was that much of this misunderstanding was coming from several articles posted on some of the mothers groups. There’s even one that uses an article from the Lancet to try to back up the claims. I spent all afternoon combing the Lancet articles and they had been completely taken out of context, simply to prove the point with no mention of elderberry at all.
What is going on with this new scare is not unlike the anti-vaccine conversation, where many vague hypotheses have turned into statements of “fact”, blurring the real truths usually found in the center between both sides of any argument. I mean no offense to anyone who is anti-vaccine but once that happens, hysteria breaks out in this information age and that is what appears to have happened here. This has many of us who are involved in herbal education really upset right now. It’s happening because people are so scared and I don’t blame them but they need to use the information they find correctly and without making simple assumptions out of fear.
This email was sent to me by someone whose pediatrician sent it to her. I don’t blame the Pediatrician for being upset at all and for asking their patients to discontinue using it. The liabilities would be huge if anything were to go wrong, even if elderberry had nothing really to do with it. We live in a very litigious society. I have since I received it seen this posted several different places in unrelated sources which leads me to believe that it's being grabbed and dispersed without any real research.
That being said, most of the pediatricians, functional and family physicians who work directly with herbs and herbalists believe that elderberry does not contribute to the phenomenon of the cytokine storm. That being said, they/we are also very cautious about suggesting it to anyone who is known to be immune compromised. That is just common sense. We’ve known forever in the herbal community that elderberry can ramp up the immune system and like I said last night, it should never be suggested to anyone who is known to be immune compromised or anyone for that matter who is using any medicines to help promote an immune response.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis or lupus, you really need to discuss using elderberry with your Doctor. For instance, my brother is diabetic and also on anti- rejection drugs. There’s no way he should ever consider taking it. When my father was fighting an antibiotic resistant superbug, we did not use it because his immune system was already too compromised and because he was also fighting a host of autoimmune issues. He was on Proscar for his prostate and Plaquenil for his rheumatoid arthritis and we felt that elderberry could have stimulated his immune system too much.
Elderberry should never be used by anyone who is taking Theophylline for asthma or other respiratory conditions because it can reduce the levels of those drugs causing them to not work as well. If you are taking a diuretic it’s a no go because elderberry is already a diuretic. Diabetics need to be really careful because elderberry can reduce blood sugar too much and too quickly. It’s contraindicated for anyone on chemotherapy as well. These are very practical things though and this information is easily available from any pharmacist and most good herbalists already know it because we have to be so careful. In my own experience, these contraindications are often not as well known by many Doctors, which is why I always say to become your pharmacists best friend!
Personally, elderberry is not part of my immunity arsenal except in cases like this when I am trying to be extra cautious. For times that aren’t as urgent I personally rely on a really healthy diet, lots of sleep, meditation, movement, plenty of water and green tea, bone broth to which I’ve added lots of fresh ginger, garlic and fresh turmeric, zinc (in low amounts), vitamins C, D and B, refrigerated Probiotics, Prebiotics, astragalus, olive leaf extract and a reishi mushroom mixture.
When a nasty bug is circulating I’ll generally begin to take elderberry right after I’ve had the direct exposure and continue it for about 7 days. If I still get sick what I’ve noticed for myself is that I generally recover faster. I discontinue its use very quickly, generally about three days into my illness and move on to zinc and Umcka, an African Geranium that is thought to help with recovery from colds and flus. That’s been the standard way most of us have used elderberry for years, it’s only recently that it’s become used as a daily prophylactic, as it's benefits became more widely known by the general public.
However, these are different times. I don’t blame anyone for using it that way right now ( I do blame them for hoarding it, that’s just silly!) and for most, it’s generally very safe provided it’s made correctly, even if you take it daily which I do not ever personally recommend. Most commercial preparations are made very well and are generally safe. Several years ago I spent months teaching so many young mothers who were trying to making the syrup themselves. Their kids were taking their syrup and vomiting because they had been using unripe berries and some stems as well as the ripe berries! Unknown to many, elderberry is totally poisonous if not produced correctly. The plant is full of cyanide so there is a proper way to harvest it and produce it and for the record, most homemade elderberry syrup if produced correctly is as safe as anything you can buy.
I have been waiting for Aviva Romm to weigh in on this before I wrote about this. Aviva is one of the only Doctors (Yale Medical School) that I know of who is also a highly trained herbalist and midwife. I’ve loved and followed her work for years. She’s always "no nonsense" which is one of the things I love about her. No bullshit. Speaking of which, I just remembered that elderberry does have some laxative qualities! She has created a COVID-19 site and you can find the link here. I am grateful to be able to share it with you; it is full of valuable information that we all need right now.
I have sent the link to an article she wrote last night, but I took this piece out of it as it directly relates to her feelings about this.
“What about Elderberry? There’s an enormous amount of information and misinformation circulating on the internet about elderberry, COVID-19, and a phenomenon called ‘cytokine storm.’ The bottom line is that most of the evidence for elderberry is for the treatment of flu when taken during the first 72 hours of symptoms, not for the prevention of either colds or flu, though one study showed a reduced duration and severity of colds (upper respiratory infection) in air travelers compared to those who didn’t use it.
Cytokine Release Syndrome (CRS), or in its extreme, cytokine storm is an immunologic phenomenon that occurs in advanced states of infection, for example, in ARDS, as mentioned above, a potentially severe advanced COVID-19 complication, sepsis, also a possible severe COVID-19 complication, or with certain specific immunologic medications (i.e., monoclonal antibodies). It was considered a major cause of death in the Spanish Flu, SARS, and H1N1 Interleukin-6 is a term often dropped in these conversations because it is an immune mediator that acts as both a pro-inflammatory cytokine but, simultaneously it also acts as an anti-inflammatory. The association with elderberry and cytokine storm is implausible; elderberry is not able to cause cytokine storm whether used for prevention or infection, or during infection. Were one to be experiencing cytokine storm, one would be far too sick for herbal therapies; this is an ICU/life support level crisis. Bottom line: elderberry is unlikely, based on what we know at this time, particularly relevant for COVID-19 prevention or even treatment of mild-to moderate symptoms and if you’re concerned about cytokine release syndrome or cytokine storm as a result of this herb, don’t use it. “
It’s always important to check in with your primary physicians, pediatricians and pharmacists before starting any herbal supplements, especially in a risky time like this. The problems usually come when people don’t. Because herbs are herbs they are assumed to be safer. They are for the most part EXCEPT that people forget that they are medicines... some of the oldest in the world. In this age of modern pharmaceuticals they can be dangerous because of how they can contraindicate with those medicines, something everyone needs to know and check out for themselves. For example, take the benign and delicious cranberry... healing for most, but not if you are taking blood thinners as it can possibly increase the risk of bleeding.
I always tell my clients, "You are responsible for your own health. Don't give your power away. In this day and age of Google, ignorance is definitely a choice. Learn everything you can and ask as many questions as you need!"
I do love Dr. Aviva Romms site and she’s always really on top of things. If you get a chance, take a look .. I think you’ll like her too and find her to be a wealth of really good and practical information!
I hope this helps! Stay well , safe and if I can be of help in any way please let me know!
Yours in beauty and magic,
Medical Disclaimer: In accordance with FDA and other government entity rules: the information and products you may learn about in regard to Herbal Wellness as a result of your association with Beth Schreibman Gehring are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. You, and you alone, are legally responsible for any and all decisions you make regarding the health of yourself, your family, children and your friends, clients and even your pets. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have learned as a result of your association with Beth Schreibman Gehring. Reliance on any information provided by me is used solely at your own risk.
For me, the holidays are a blend of magnificent, fragrant sensations. Because I'm a cook, herbalist and perfume obsessed writer, the smells of the season tend to blend together for me in a gloriously fragrant stew starting from Halloween through the New Year. There are so many fragrances that I love that are synonymous with this time of year, but I've tried today to keep it to 6 of my favorites...Not an easy feat!
Most of you who read my fragrant musings know that from November the 1st until January the 2nd, I will only wear Caron's magnificent Nuit de Noel. I love it because to me it smells like a crackling fire with a split of champagne and a bouquet of slightly warmed roses in a vase nearby. Nuit de Noel is full of spicy amber, musk and a bit of oak moss… some may call it a chypre, but to me it's a true oriental. Last year I was gifted with a bottle of the vintage perfume that I ritualistically applied this year during this week of Christmas…1 drop on each wrist, one drop in the cleavage . It's just beautiful and a perfume to be cherished.
True to my word I put my Nuit de Noel away sadly every year come the second of January, but because I do it's a bit of magic that's never lost it's ability to enchant me year after year.
The second of my favorite holiday scents are the Root Candle Bayberry tapers that I buy every year. This is possibly my favorite home fragrance anytime of the year, but during Christmas, it is just so beautiful to me. Theres an old New England saying, "A Bayberry candle burned to the socket
will bring joy to the heart and gold to the pocket. " I'm fairly superstitious so I never miss a year and these are some of my favorite presents to give. The Bayberry fragrance gives me a lift all year round but never more so than during the holiday season when it is completely and understatedly appropriate, a refreshing walk in the forest after a soft snowfall. Cliche I know...but it's an accurate description, I promise.
To me synonymous with the holiday season is a shopping trip to New York City and the roasted chestnuts that can be found on every other street corner is my idea of simple and perfect fast food. A bag of them in my lap while snuggled up against my husband in a Hansom carriage is as far as I'm concerned the best time to be had in the world. I love them…peeling them leaves a roasted , woody aroma lingering on my fingertips and eating them is a sweet and sinful pleasure. These same roasted chestnuts and champagne are a perfect pairing and lets take it up a notch and talk about marrons glace! To make those you'll take those same roasted chestnuts and simmer them over and over again in a bath of simple syrup until the moisture in the chestnuts has been replaced by the sugar, leaving them crystalline and aromatic. Crumbled over fresh vanilla coconut milk ice cream and sprinkled with a bit of crystalline candied ginger and some fresh mochi paste you won't find a much more delightful and festive and easily digestible dessert to enjoy with that Champagne.
Every year on Christmas morning I would walk into my mothers kitchen where she would be making the same breakfast that she had cooked and eaten for almost her entire life. Creamed Chicken a la King on buttered toast points, egg strata with cheese and smoky bacon, a fresh pecan roll , stewed fruit and a pot of coffee . Since she's been gone I make it every year (my family would riot if I didn't!) and it's a wonderful way to spend my morning thinking of her. All of the aromas of that breakfast are wonderful, simmering onions and warm yeasty sugary dough , but the stewed fruit is especially amazing. It's a simple recipe too, water and about 5 different sorts of dried fruit go into a saucepan along with a cup or two of mulling spices, two cups of brown sugar, a cup of sherry and a sliced lemon and orange. It simmers for hours until the whole thing is a syrupy , delicious mess of fruity, spicy goodness. There's always plenty left over because a little goes along way. Around New Years I'll put it back on the stove, add an onion or two and simmer it down some more and serve it with a pork tenderloin and some crispy roasted potatoes.
One Christmas over 20 years ago I found a pierced silver pomander at Saks Fifth Avenue. It was absolutely beautiful, but unimaginatively filled. I pictured it as an ancient medieval wonder, filled to the brim with Frankincense, myrhh, cinnamon, cloves and orange. So I filled it up with all of those things as well as some fresh rosemary, yarrow and sage from my own gardens, strung it a heavy silver chain and wore it around for days until I decided that the best place for it was a spot on my tree where it holds a place of honor every year!
The last of my favorite holiday fragrances is perhaps the simplest one. It really can't be called Christmas if I don't have a batch of my mothers Christmas Chocolate Pears. This is possibly the simplest recipe in existence and it was first discovered by my father and me at a wonderful old Atlantic city restaurant called "The Knife and Fork". It took my mother years of writing Gourmet Magazine enlist their help in persuading them to part with the recipe ( I remember when that issue of Gourmet came because it was quite the celebration in my house!) and when she finally acquired it we were in heaven because it is just that good. This dessert is very easy to make, it's the ingredients that are important. You must have freshly whipped cream and you must use CANNED PEARS and a thin layer of very good chocolate. At The Knife and Fork they made these in individual servings in pretty little glass bowls but for a larger party you can layer the pears in a crystal bowl. Then layer the whipped cream on top of them. Melt the chocolate, add a little bit of the canned pear syrup into it and then pour a thin layer of the chocolate over the top of the whipped cream and pears. Then chill and the chocolate will harden into a thin and delightfully bittersweet coating that cracks when you touch it with the spoon. Each mouthful is a decadent bite of pear, chocolate and whipped cream and is simply perfect. The fruity and floral nature of the pears, mixed with the silken whipped cream and the scent of perfectly bittersweet chocolate reminds me of my mothers holiday dinners, truly elegant yet comfortable affairs which always celebrated family first and Christmas second.
I was looking for the little clipping from Gourmet that my mother saved for years, but them I'm came across this link on Food.com. So this is my New Years gift to you.....The original recipe for one of my families favorite holiday desserts! Try this one..It's easy and incredibly wonderful!
So what are the fragrances that say Happy Holidays to you?
Hasn’t it been an incredibly beautiful autumn? Watching the leaves turn their magnificent shades of russet and gold puts me in the mood for fires, feasts and long evenings spent with my family, eating comforting foods and quietly enjoying each others companionship. Because the holiday season is soon to be upon us I’m already planning my menus and of course trying to decide how to set my tables, which is for me always the most fun of all!
I’ve been thinking for quite sometime now about family gatherings, and what they mean to us. As I was growing up, there were beautiful things that my mother always used on her table, seasonal items that made each celebration unique. When I was very young, she taught me to fill her traditional wicker cornucopia at Thanksgiving with an overflowing abundance of fruits, nuts and flowers, a centerpiece that I still create today. This beautiful symbol of harvest abundance has long been associated with the turning of the wheel of the year towards autumn.
For many years, traditional woven cornucopias were difficult to find, but thankfully almost any craft store sells them year round. It is also possible to create the same effect with a lovely basket, made from wicker or any other material. Don’t limit yourself to using the cornucopia for only Thanksgiving though. I’ve filled them with Christmas balls, candy canes, holly and ivy and lots of pine boughs for a festive look on the sideboard.
Many of us have beautiful pieces of antique silver, gorgeous family pieces, stashed away and rarely used. I encourage you to examine those long forgotten treasures for a suitable vessel to create your holiday centerpiece.
Many pieces of silver can be used as centerpieces, even if this was not their original purpose. I’ve even used a tea service as a beautiful seasonal arrangement by filling each piece with flowers and surrounding them with gourds, fruit and nuts.
Single salt cellars or antique cordial glasses each filled with a small bouquet can be used as individual centerpieces on your table, making each guest feel very special. Once you’ve chosen the pieces to work with, the fun begins! Have fun arranging it so that all of the lusciousness and sensuality of the season spills out everywhere!
A simple trip to the grocery store will provide you with lots of inspiration! Mini pumpkins that you can paint and/or gild, bunches of grapes, French chestnuts, pears and apples, squashes and gourds, the choices are endless! Don’t forget some lovely mums, sunflowers or even roses to poke in and out of the abundance of fruit. If you use roses, don’t forget the florist’s tubes so that they stay fresh.
For Thanksgiving If you have children, don’t forget to add some lovely foil wrapped chocolate turkeys and pilgrims! Until my mother died, my son still looked for them as soon as we walked into her house Thanksgiving eve! After Thanksgiving, out came her Christmas Carolers and her collections of angels and bells. If you have young children, bundle them up and send them outside for acorns, rosehips, seed pods and beautiful leaves to bring a bit of wildness into your holiday arrangements.
For many years while I was setting tables at my store the most commonly asked question was “ My dishes always look the same, no matter what I do , so how can I make my table look festive and seasonal?”
Color and texture will make the difference between the same old thing and a look for your table that’s fresh and new!
Accents of strong color that you personally love will always do great things for your holiday spirits. For example, even a plain gold and white dinnerware pattern can be turned into an elegant holiday expression with the addition of a different salad ,soup or charger plate.
For a smaller investment than an entirely new set of dishes, you can create a table that is uniquely yours. If your dinnerware is heavily patterned, why not use a lovely colored wine or water glass that matches your plate!
I love to play with fabrics this time of year, in jewel toned hues of flecked with lots of silver and gold; anything that evokes the peace of the season and remember, Christmas does not have to be red and green!
A floral or toile tablecloth will completely change the look of any dinnerware that you own, dressing up a casual dish, or warming up a very formal setting. One of my favorite tables mixes velvet and tapestry, to create a look that is very rich and warm.
A velvety tablecloth cloth in a deep shade of burgundy, with the top draped in tapestry changes the look of the simplest dish. Add an oversized napkin in a colorful crepe fabric and stuff it you’re your water glass, or tie it with a beautiful fabric ribbon and you have a table that everyone wants to linger at.
Lots of candlesticks, always in odd numbers will finish the setting. Don’t be afraid to mix pewter, silver, brass and copper. Anything goes as long as you love the way that it looks. Choose one color for the candles and enjoy the lovely glow!
I love serving soup in many different ways, but a beautiful soup tureen is always closest to my heart. I’ve often said that if I had a serving piece that I would refuse to part with; it would be my Herend soup tureen in the Poisson pattern. Covered with beautiful handpainted fish, and bordered in deep sage green and gold, it moves through all of the seasons effortlessly. If I’m not using it for soup, it turns into a grand centerpiece for my table with the addition of about three small pots of flowers and masses of fresh herbs and ivy! At Christmas I surround it with a beautiful wreath and mound pretty little gilded birds and pine cones all around it.
A smaller soup tureen like the one shown above is portable, and you can use it in the living room with all of your demitasse cups for an elegant start to the evening. No one ever uses demitasse cups for their intended purpose ( coffee) and almost everyone that I know has inherited huge collections of them. Because they have handles, and a place to rest the spoon, soup is a fabulous way to use these often overlooked pieces!
I've also served many different soups in a large hollowed out pumpkin that has been placed in a wreath of gilded greens and fruits, yet another easy and gorgeous centerpiece!
A small glass of wine and a bit of cheese and /or pate served with the soup while you’re putting the finishing touches on the rest of the meal makes waiting for dinner a celebration in itself and a delightful way to begin the family evening.
Those same demitasse cups could be filled with a creamy mousse for dessert (with chocolate shavings and whipped cream of course!) alongside of all of the traditional pies and cakes that my family loves to consume during the holidays.
For me, satisfying entertaining has everything to do with keeping the evening warm and personal, even if you’ve got a real crowd on your hands!
On Thanksgiving and Christmas, one of our favorite family traditions is to go around the table and have each person share what they are grateful for that year.
Another holiday tradition that I love is to have everyone who joins us bring something to share that they ate with their families, in a serving piece that is special to them.
Don’t leave the table without letting everyone sitting there know just how much they mean to you.
Take a pear, a gold or silver marker from the craft store and handwrite your guest’s names on each one for a quick and easy place card so they know just how much they belong! My mother always buys little tin pans from the grocery store, so that everyone takes home a bit of the meal for their lunch the next day. Why not share your family recipes, perhaps copied onto pretty paper or recipe cards so that you can give them out. (Don’t be modest; you know they’re going to ask!) This year, teach your children or grandchildren to cook with you, or let them help you set the table, and arrange the flowers so that they’ll always know what to do when they have families of their own. We can all discover new ways of connecting the old with the new, ways of creating traditions that are personal and related in a world that is quickly losing its sense of peace and security.
Those are a few of mine; I’d love to know some of yours!
Pumpkin soup tureen nor the colored glassware pictures are not mine but i have no idea who to attribute them to.
I will never forget the Thanksgiving when my friend John and his beautiful wife Emily came for a surprise with their darling son Xander. I was so looking forward to having them join us because I knew that it would be just the right antidote for the holiday sadness I was beginning to feel. Those first couple of holidays after my mother passed weren't the easiest.
It was a crazy time, I was trying so hard to have everything just right, juggling my sons and father completely opposing schedules. My father was in a nursing home and by 10:00 am on Thanksgiving day I was sobbing in the middle of my kitchen floor because absolutely nothing was working out the way that I wanted it to. On top of that my cat Zoe got sick and I was leaving for Boulder the very next day.
It was the absolute perfect storm of holiday madness.
Except for Emily.
She took over and made me this pancake and everything was all right in the world again. This is one of those amazing recipes that can be a breakfast, side dish, dinner or even a dessert, especially if you serve it hot with some cinnamon, bourbon and vanilla ice cream. If you want to use it as a side dish, think pork roast or fried chicken and for breakfast, think about some sage infused chicken sausage and of course, butter and maple syrup.
I promise you that this pancake is absolutely delicious. This isn't her exact recipe , but it's close enough. I used this picture from that very Thanksgiving on the first edition of my book...one look at it and I am transported back to that moment when the world came back into color again.
All that I can really say about it is that I am sure that this pancake is magic and so is Emily. One bite and it was all better. This is the ultimate comfort food.
2 Large apples, peeled ,cored and sliced
4 organic eggs
2/3 cup of organic Half and Half
1/2 cup of unsifted white flour (do not use whole wheat)- Any gluten free girls can substitute your favorite!)
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
4 tablespoons of sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
4 tablespoons of melted butter
fresh lemon wedges
pumpkin pie spice
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Beat the eggs until fluffy in a bowl and add the half and half, 1/4 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice and the vanilla. Add the flour and beat it for a 1/2 minute until it turns into a light batter and set it aside, covered with a towel .
Add the melted butter to a cast iron pan and then add the sugar mixture. Add the apples and coat them evenly. Cook the apples on medium heat stirring to coat them.
Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg batter over them, arranging the apples so that they are pretty. Sprinkle them with more of the pie spice and bake the pancake for about 13 to 15 minutes or until its fluffy, golden and perfect.
Take the pancake out of the oven, sprinkle it with the powdered sugar, spoon it out onto individual plates and serve it hot with a squeeze of fresh lemon, melted butter and warmed maple syrup or honey.
For the record, you could make this with almost ripe pears and it would be delectable.