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December 2012

Seasonal Celebrations: My Favorite Scents of the Season and one FABULOUS recipe!



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 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…an entirely different animal than the EDP and 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 so it's a bit of magic that's never lost it's ability to enchant  me year after year.

  Annick Noel

The second of my favorite holiday scents is  the Noel candle and home spray from Annick Goutal. This is possibly my favorite home fragrance  anytime of the year, but during Christmas it is just so beautiful to me. Several years back they actually discontinued it, but the hew and cry must have been intense because thankfully it wasn't gone very long! Noel is the classic balsam and pine smell of Christmas with a touch of fresh orange , spicy mandarin and just a hint of birch.  It 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 held a place of honor for many years until it mysteriously dissapeared several years ago. I am waiting impatiently to find another! 



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 and fortunately every year since my mother died my dear friend who loves them as much as we do still makes them to bring to our annual Winter Solstice dinner!

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?




An abbreviated version of the post can be found on my favorite Perfume Blog, Perfume Smellin Things!

None of these pictures are mine but are not easily attributable to any one source. 

Seasonal Celebrations: Blessed Solstice 2012!

The longest night of the year is upon us and once again my sister and I are throwing our annual Winter Solstice bash. Will it be the end of the world? Will there be more snow? Will I have enough food for all of the friends we're expecting? Enough Champagne to toast the New Year? Enough of Caron's Nuit de Noel to carry me through to the end of the year? I’m truly not sure about the whole “End of the World “ thing ,  but I’m definitely hoping that it’s the end of an era. You’d have to be tucked somewhere in the deep dark wilderness to have not been affected by the tragic news this week.  It seems that America is experiencing her own longest night and I must admit that it’s difficult to not give in to the sadness.  Jim and I knew that somehow we needed to honor the little angels whose lives were lost last week in Newtown, but I wasn’t sure how to do it. Then very unexpectedly came an invitation from my niece to join a Facebook group called "Random Acts of Kindness".


Random acts of kindness are certainly not a new concept, but this one had a twist.  The founder of the group, a young mother herself, probably not older than 25 asked us each to do 27 random acts of kindness in honor of each of the lives that were lost last Friday.


She writes “I know that the tragedy in Newtown, CT touched many of us and are unable to give back like we would like to. But I proposethis! In remembrance of all the victims that we do our best in carrying out RANDOM acts of kindness! It could be as simple as opening the door for an elderly person, or buying lunch for the homeless...anything. Just remember more acts of kindness will only promote other people to want to do the same! This violence in this country needs to be put to an end and the only way we can put a minimum to that is being kind to one another! So, lets prepare to carry out 27 RANDOM acts of Kindness in remembrance of all the victims that lost their lives all too young!”


What a simple yet brilliant truth. You don’t have to have a lot of money to perform a random act of kindness, just the desire to make a difference. Random acts of kindness can be well thought out or they can be spontaneous! They are precious in that they are gifts of yourself, something that this world seems to need now more than ever. So on this Solstice eve I propose that we follow her example and think of something we can do that doesn’t necessarily cost a dime yet would make all of the difference to the receiver. Half the fun of doing this is to perform these acts towards someone who has no clue who you are or if you’re going to do something for someone you know don’t let them see you. I love the idea of writing 27 Christmas cards and putting them on anonymous car windshields like she did, who knows? The possibilities for kindness are endless! So I thank you Nicole Canales for although we have never met, I am so grateful to you for reminding me of the difference that I can make in this world. I encourage you to visit her group on Facebook simply called “Random Acts of Kindness”.  You’ll be very glad you did.


 To you my dear readers once again we have reached that spoke in the wheel of the year where I get to tell you just how much I appreciate you all. This funny little world that we inhabit together, this place where gorgeous scents, magical adventures and yummy foods blend to make the most sublimely passionate prose is one of my happiest places. I always wish that you could be at my Solstice Party, where I would feed you cups of luxuriously boozy and spicy eggnog and platefuls of the most glorious desserts that you’ve ever seen, some fruit, some chocolate… all splendid. Mostly I wish that I could just once wrap my arms around each of you and give back to you personally what you have given to me. As I light the fragrant Noel candles and the Yule fire this year I will be thinking of you all and making a wish for the most wonderful 2013 to come. As corny as it sounds, in the eternally sappy words of Jerry Maguire,  ”You complete me”. The comments you leave and the emails I receive let me know that from my little desk in my little corner of the world that I’ve made a difference to you and that’s not a little thing for a wordsmith like me.

And now a lullaby for all of you.....It's midnight here on the Northcoast. I'm wrapped in wind, the house smells like onions and sage and the snow is beginning to fall, but it looks like I'm still here and I'm glad that you are too. 


Wishing you all a Very Merry Solstice and I’ll see you all on the other side of 2012!   

With love from The Windesphere Witch (and her little cat Zoe!)



The picture of the house belongs to Beth Schreibman Gehring

Mary Chapin Carpenter video created by John Norvell

This post also appears today in Perfume Smellin Things

Be~Witching: Simple Spa Tips for a Magical and Stress Free Holiday!



Don’t you wish that you could just take the time right now for a luxurious and blissfully indulgent spa weekend? There’s nothing like the hustle and hurry of the holiday season to make even the most seasoned shopper long for a bit of time out! Long years spent in the grueling trenches of holiday retail have taught this witch a few tricks and I’ve learned that if I just give myself an extra bit of TLC during the month of December that life is looking pretty good by the Winter Solstice! So here is my Yuletide gift to you in the form of some of my most relaxing tips to keep the holidays special, sparkling and bright!


First of all make sure that you’re taking the time to eat right. For every piece of candy or every Christmas cookie that you eat (and I am the first to admit that I’ll enjoy plenty this month!)  make sure that you eat at least 2 pieces of fresh fruit, or a snack of fresh vegetables with a bit of cheese.  Salads as often as possible this month can really help to move the sugar through your system, just remember to watch the dressing. If you’ve got a juicer, try to have at least one glass of fresh juice today to gently detoxify your system!


 If you can’t stomach a lot of raw food when it’s cold outside and many people can’t, steamed vegetables and a bit of chicken or fresh fish are a good bet. I’ve noticed recently that most good salad bars are filled with yummy grains, like quinoa and plenty of options like cooked butternut squash and beets, both of which are root vegetables and will serve to ground you and keep you warm during this strenuous season. Let your instincts guide you and generally you’ll choose the foods you need!


 You need even more hydration than normal when its Christmassy cold and dry outside so I love to sip lots of green tea or my own herbal tea blend  (I love red rooibos tea blended with cinnamon, pink peppercorn and sage!), sweetened with agave nectar or raw honey.   I can’t say it enough, if you’re a coffee drinker, alternate between tea or sparkling water. If you have a soda-stream machine you can make your own, but if not why not buy good seltzer water and flavor it yourself? One of my favorites this time of year is a classic combination of soda, peppermint essential oil or extract and a bit of chocolate syrup with about a teaspoon of agave nectar.  Stir, pour over ice and enjoy! You can add juice to soda water or even flavored green tea to make a healthy spritzer. No sugar laden cola beverages need apply! 


If you overindulge one evening just jump back on the bandwagon! After a night of too much eggnog (and who can resist too much eggnog every now and then!)    just make sure that the next day is filled with food that’s as “clean” as possible and by this I mean nothing processed and everything simple and fresh!  Drink lots of fresh water and add some extra vitamin B and in a few hours you’ll feel like new again!


Make sure that you get plenty of fresh air this time of year even if it’s cold outside. Just bundle up and take a quick walk or if you have an office, open the window, shut the door and do a few simple yoga stretches. If you can take a walk before you go to work in the morning  begin and end it with a few simple stretches. Then sit down and drink a cup of tea and read something delightful even if it’s only for 15 minutes. This will relax and prepare you for the busy day ahead. If you can, crack the window just a teeny bit before you go to bed. Numerous studies have shown that a temperature anywhere between 65 or 70 degrees along with a bit of fresh air creates the most restful environment!


A bath or a lovely shower at the end of a long day is my idea of nirvana, but a bath in the morning before work is true pampering. My mother used to take one everyday and she swore by them.  If you can, get up early one weekday and fill up the tub with bubbles or delicious bath oil. LIght a couple of lovely candles and make sure that the water's not too hot, nor too cold.. just a temperature that relaxes and refreshes you. If you want, add a sugar or salt scrub to keep your skin glowing, Then slip out of the tub, wrap yourself in a huge bath sheet and moisturize with a light sesame, olive or almond oil. Don’t forget a spritz of your favorite perfume and you’ll feel ready for the busiest day.


If you don’t have time for a bath, how about throwing a big handful of fresh or dried herbs like lavender, rose, peppermint or lemon verbena into a pot for a wonderful facial steam. Bring the herbs and water to a simmer, put your head over the pot and cover your head and shoulders with a soft loose towel for a few minutes. Afterwards, splash some cool water on your face and spritz with some rosewater that you can buy at any health food store. A light massage of your favorite moisturizer will have your skin glowing and ready for makeup if you wear it!


Don’t forget to winterize your hair, which at this time of year can be frizzy, and flyaway from the dry air and forced artificial heat of our environments. I love to make my own hair mayonnaise when I get a chance and it’s easy to do! I simply put two eggs in the blender, some lavender or rose essential oil and turn it on. Drizzle about a cup of olive oil in to the mixture while the blender is turning at it’s highest speed and voila’, you’ve got a wonderful hair treatment!  Wet your hair with warm water, towel dry and apply the mayonnaise for about ½ hour covering your hair with a towel. Shampoo it out, let it air dry and enjoy your silky, soft and completely manageable hair! If you don't have time to make your own, just grab a cup of olive oil mayonnaise and stirr the essential oils into it. Use in the same way for absolutely beautiful results!


If you’re lucky enough to have someone around to give you a healing massage don’t hesitate to ask for one this time of year (don’t forget to give as good as you get!)  but if not you can give yourself a very good self massage quite easily! Keep a tube of peppermint foot cream and another of your favorite hand cream in your purse or briefcase at all times. When you feel in need of a quick break, just give yourself a simple hand massage by gently pulling on each finger and rubbing the cream into your palms, massaging all of the tendons in your hands. Be sure to rub your neck and shoulders, the easiest way to do this is to interlock the fingers in both hands and then use your thumbs to massage gently all of the way around your head and neck. You’ll be surprised when in a few minutes you’re feeling refreshed and ready to tackle all of that unfinished Christmas business!





Last but definitely not least, be sure to set the scene for the holiday that you want. Fill your home with candles and fresh greens, and let yourself enjoy the sounds and spirit of the season. Have this holiday season be the way that YOU want it to be. Too often these days our holidays are dictated by marketing groups sitting isolated in their offices far away. Instead, why don’t you choose what you want your December to look like this year. If you want your home to be a peaceful haven completely removed from the holiday madness then that’s what you should create but if you want the Norman Rockwell/ Martha Stewart version go ahead and try that too! Just don’t stress yourself out with images of perfection that are airbrushed and unrealistic. Take a deep breath, jump in and enjoy yourself. FInd a family to feed or a shut -in relative to visit. Start a food drive in your community or go ice skating with your sweetheart.The best tip I've got for stres reduction during the holidays? Make sure that you've got plenty of mistletoe for kissing under!  This is a season full of magic and good wishes and my wish for you is the very happiest and most original  of holidays this year!




None of these pictures are mine! I'm not sure where to attribute them though. 

Enchanting Objects: Christmas at the Village Herb Shop

So yesterday I was finally able to get out for a bit of Yuletide shopping! Of course one of my favorite places to visit is The Village Herb Shop in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Kathleen Gip's and her knowledgable staff have many magical herbal treasures just waiting to be enjoyed. Handcrafted potpourris and "do it yourself" herbal crafts are some of the many wonderful treats waiting for you there. They have an extensive selection of savory herbs and spice mixes,fragrant soaps, teas from all over the world,  glorious candles and wonderfully herby bath and beauty products and just wait until you experience the Fairy Garden room through the eyes of your favorite child! Enjoy a cup of the fragrant tea of the day and relax for awhile in this delightful apothecary. They have every thing you need to make your Christmas merry and bright! Here are just a few scenes from yesterdays visit. Just click on each picture to enlarge!

                        Rose and Lavender Soaps

                  Hot Chocolate Mixes from Bellagio

                   The view from the top of the stairs!

   Silver Bells to benefit the Fabulous Cleveland Orchestra!

                Are you ready for an indoor snowball fight?

             My new favorite holiday saying!

Kathleen Gip's, owner of The Village Herb Shop and two of her handcrafted & stunning potpourri blends!

      One of the cutest advent calenders that I've ever seen!

    The stockings were hung by the chimney with care!

                   Decorations to fill your home with cheer!

Fresh Rosemary to bring love, luck and happiness in the coming year to anyone who smells it on Christmas Eve!

                      Be sure to shop from the glorious herb shop tree!

 All Photos belong to me. Please do not use without my permission.
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Reading Tea Leaves: scenes from a Pearl Street Tea Shop

Last week in Boulder I had the opportunity to stroll down Pearl Street for awhile. I'm no stranger there, but I always return because its still one of the places in America where the shops are mostly wonderful boutiques ... Places built on individual dreams and lively personal visions chock full of glorious merchandise, much of it handcrafted and unique.

After eating one of the yummiest hot dogs I'd ever tasted, I found myself at this lovely tea house after a spirited hike up Flaggstaff Mountain with my family and I was thirsty! Everyone else ran to the nearest Starbucks but I wanted something just a bit more real. Walking through the door I was sure I'd entered paradise... The teas were gorgeous and beautifully displayed and there was a quiet and cozy tea room in the back. I wandered from front to back, sniffed and tasted and finally settled on a lovely handcrafted ( whisk and all!) glass of powdered Matcha green tea that was lightly sweetened and milky with some of those wonderful tapioca bubbles in the bottom that you have to suck through an enormous straw.

Looking outside about 10 minutes later I was astonished to see this amazing sunset.

It was a perfect finish to a perfect day...
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