Sisi Fuss

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Fine Art, History, The Arts

Kirsti and I have not written much for the blog this summer, and over the past month I haven’t felt like swooning over anything except the oppressive heat, but I’ve been roused today from my self-imposed sabbatical to commemorate, of all things, an assassination.

On September 10, 1898—120 years ago today—Empress Elisabeth of Austria, known familiarly as “Sisi” (i.e. sissy), was stabbed in the chest by a disgruntled anarchist (is there any other kind?) as she was about to board a steamship in Geneva, Switzerland. In the chaos of the attack, neither she nor her lady-in-waiting realized what had happened until Sisi collapsed and was carried aboard ship, where her tight corset laces, which had been stanching the flow of blood, were cut open to help her breathe…and that was all she wrote.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1865.

Years ago, when I’d grown my hair below my waist and was in thrall to trailing tresses, I encountered a painting of Sisi by famed royal portraitist Franz Xaver Winterhalter and developed an adult case of Princess Syndrome. In the painting, Sisi’s famously long, thick hair is unbound and flowing down her back while one creamy shoulder is exposed by the drape of a sumptuous gown. I was enchanted, and thus began my fascination with this complicated consort.

Sisi’s marriage to Franz Joseph I of Austria initially seemed like a fairytale. His mother had arranged for him to marry his cousin, Sisi’s older sister Helene, but when then-Princess Elisabeth joined Helene and their mother to meet the young Emperor for the first time, he only had eyes for Sisi. In a rare display of defiance against his domineering mother, Franz Joseph declared that he’d marry none but Elisabeth, and their betrothal was announced five days later.

This Winterhalter portrait from 1864 was Franz Joseph’s favorite painting of his wife.

The courtship and marriage were highly romanticized in the 1955 film Sissi,* but real life did not lead to a happily ever after. From the beginning, Sisi chafed at the strictures of court life, compounded by the open disdain of her overbearing mother-in-law, who took charge of raising Sisi’s two daughters and is rumored to have threatened her over not producing a male heir. By the time Sisi gave birth to a son, her first child had already died of illness, and she’d fallen into a depression that plagued her throughout her life.

Her misery manifested as a number of (likely) psychosomatic ailments and an obsession with weight and beauty involving extreme exercise and fasting regimens, daily cold showers, and hours spent brushing and styling her hair. But despite her neuroses and melancholy, Sisi was intelligent and curious, taking delight in defying convention and shocking those in her stifling milieu. She spoke several languages, was an avid reader, and had a passionate thirst for knowledge that led to wanderlust in her later years, but the death of her only son at the age of 30 in a murder-suicide with his mistress was the final blow from which she never emotionally recovered.

Winterhalter’s famous 1865 portrait of Sisi wearing crystal hair pins and a tulle gown covered with shimmering foil stars.

During her 44 years as Empress of Austria, Sisi found periods of solace by visiting Hungary, of which she was also queen through her marriage, and showed a clear preference for that country and its people. While this angered many Austrians, she remained a subject of fascination and was lauded for her charitable works and sympathy with the common man. When she was assassinated at age 60, Sisi was deeply mourned throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an area that continues to make a fuss over her to this day.

Kirsti traveled to Vienna a few years ago, where she visited the Sisi Museum in the Hofburg Imperial Palace and scored me several choice items of “Sisiana,” including syrup and jelly, tea and truffles, and a beautiful reproduction of one of the crystal starburst hair pins that adorn Sisi’s coiffure in Winterhalter’s most famous portrait of her. I have also ordered Sisi-themed chocolates (surprisingly delicious) and sparkling wine from Austria that arrived on my doorstep faster than many orders I’ve placed in the U.S.

While I enjoy using these items and admiring Sisi’s portrait on my wall (a gift from my cousin), I try not to lose sight of an enduring lesson. The irony and tragedy of celebrating Sisi for her beauty is that she derived her self-worth from her looks, which were doomed to fade over time. And though it would be easy to dismiss her as a pampered, vain royal who cared only about her appearance and didn’t appreciate the good fortune her status afforded, her story is a reminder that beauty, money, and position are no protection against adversity and heartache.

After learning about the lady beyond the canvas, I no longer have Princess Syndrome. People from all walks of life can experience tragedy and self-doubt, and every woman should know that she’s valued for more than just physical attractiveness, her spouse, or a title. The freedom to pursue your own purpose is a privilege, and it turns out that marrying into royalty is not all it’s cracked up to be (I’m looking at you, Hallmark Channel!).

But I still really love that hair.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice in this post:

Empress Elisabeth of Austria

 

Sissi* chocolates and sparkling wine can be ordered online from Austrian Shop, but be aware that availability is often unreliable.

 

*Sisi’s nickname is often misspelled as Sissi is film, literature, the performing arts, retail, and various other areas.

Sisi might remind you of another beautiful and beloved princess whose unhappiness with her marriage, royal restrictions, and public scrutiny led to depression, low self-esteem, and an eating disorder, but also sparked a streak of defiance, an interest in philanthropic endeavors, and an affinity for the common people that led to an outpouring of grief upon her untimely death.

Franz Winterhalter also painted a famous portrait of another beautiful aristocrat with fabulous hair.

 

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Reap What You Soma

Author: Kirsten K., Cold Drinks, Food & Drink, Wellness

Like much of the country, we in Southern California are experiencing a seemingly endless series of summer heat waves. To add insult to injury, the air conditioner in my 14-year-old Beetle broke and I decided it wasn’t worth the money to fix it when I plan to buy a new car soon, so I chose instead to invest in another essential for surviving the summer: water.

I’d read about the Soma water filtration system on Tim Ferrissblog in 2012, but didn’t get one for myself, because I’ve had a high-quality, under-the-sink purifier for years. However, it’s wedged between the water pipe and the wall, making it a pain to change the filter (not to mention the slow leak that remained out of sight and undetected until water had seeped under the wooden floorboards halfway across the kitchen), and I started noticing a slimy build-up developing within the faucet pipe. Yikes!

That’s when I made the switch to Soma’s sleek countertop dispenser. Its BPA-free plastic reservoir holds a filter made from 65% plant-based, renewable materials that provide clean, great tasting water in minutes. The design is elegant and innovative, with a lid “door” that automatically opens while filling from the faucet, then closes when done. The shatter-resistant, borosilicate glass carafe makes a stylish serving vessel that holds 48 oz. (6 cups) of purified water and happens to nicely complement the shape of my tavern shrub glasses. Plus, unlike my under-the-sink model, it quickly disassembles for easy cleaning.

I swear that I’m not affiliated with Soma in any way, but their water filtration system is one of the best purchases I’ve made in years! Since buying their glass carafe and filter, I’ve been drinking water more regularly than I can remember. And with several affordable options to choose from—including family-friendly plastic pitchers that hold 6-10 cups, a portable water bottle with protective silicone sleeve, and their new brew bottle for making coffee and loose leaf tea on the go (want!)—there are Soma-ny ways to hydrate.

If all of that weren’t enough, you can sign up to receive replacement filters by mail every two months, and each time you purchase a Soma filter, they donate to charity: water, which works to provide sustainable, clean water in developing countries. I’ll drink to that! So be sure to water daily and frequently in this heat, because you aren’t the only one who’ll reap what you Soma.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Soma Water Filtration Systems

 

Soma products are also available from Amazon and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

 

Lemon Aid

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Holidays, Recipes, Sweets

Today is National Ice Cream Day, and whether you plan to celebrate with scoops of the dairy-derived dessert or pints of a plant-based alternative, I’ve got a sweet and simple recipe that you can squeeze out in mere minutes.

Many years ago, my brother-in-law’s co-worker shared his “secret” formula for a foolproof hot weather treat: lemonade ice cream. It is embarrassingly easy, utterly unsophisticated…and absolutely awesome!

With its cool, creamy texture and tart, refreshing flavor, lemonade ice cream is the perfect summertime sweet. The recipe involves just two ingredients, two pieces of equipment, and two minutes of your time—it’s almost too good to be true!

If you’re looking for a last-minute dessert, it’s lemonade ice cream to the rescue. You can blend up a batch for your next seasonal social and still have plenty of time to enjoy the lazy days of summer (emphasis on “lazy”). And when guests are swooning from the heat, start spooning up this treat and you’ll render lemon aid.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

LEMONADE ICE CREAM

Ingredients:
One half-gallon of vanilla ice cream*
One 12 oz. can of frozen lemonade concentrate

Equipment:
Large glass or metal bowl
Large mixing spoon

Directions:
Place bowl in freezer for 30 minutes or more before preparing recipe (recommended, but not strictly necessary). Set ice cream on counter at room temperature for about 10 minutes to soften. Remove bowl and lemonade concentrate from freezer. Empty entire carton of ice cream and full can of lemonade concentrate into the bowl. Mix together with spoon until blended (I prefer a uniform mixture, but my sister likes to gently fold in the concentrate, stopping when there are still random chunks of vanilla ice cream and frozen lemonade in the mix). Cover bowl and return to freezer for at least an hour to set before serving. The consistency will be a little softer than that of regular ice cream. Serve with a slice of lemon or a strip of candied lemon peel.

Variations:

  • To fancify this dorm room dessert, add a drop or two of Lavender or Rose flavor extract from Medicine Flower before mixing, then serve with a sprig or sprinkle of lavender buds or rose petals that haven’t been treated with pesticides.
  • Substitute a can of frozen concentrated limeade for the lemonade, then serve in a margarita glass. First dip the rim of the glass in lime sugar (or salt), then slip a slice of lime on the edge.

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*For vegans and those who avoid dairy products, substitute four pints of vanilla non-dairy dessert (I like Vanilla Island from Coconut Bliss) for the ice cream. Since I never see quarts or half-gallons of dairy-free ice cream at my local supermarkets, I usually make small batches of this recipe by mixing a pint of non-dairy ice cream with ¼ can (or to taste) of the frozen lemonade concentrate. Just scoop it out of the can, replace the lid, and secure with a rubber band to store in the freezer for later.

 

It’s Pickle Time!

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Snacks, Starters

When I’m at the farmer’s market and see that yellow beans are in season, as they are now, I rejoice! That means it’s PICKLE TIME!

I’m a big fan of homemade pickles. First, because they are delicious, but also because they are easy and quick to make and people usually lose their shit over homemade pickles. Another great reason to make pickles is that you can make one big batch, which will keep you in pickle supply for a few weeks. And, better yet, you will still have enough left over to give as gifts.

There are so many vegetables that are perfect for pickling: yellow and green beans, carrots, beets, asparagus, cauliflower, cucumbers, fennel—almost any firm veggie will work. Go to the farmer’s market, see what’s fresh, and pick yourself a peck. Peter Piper won’t care.

Another great thing about pickling is that you can use the bones of the recipe and riff on it. If a Grateful Dead song was a snack food, it would be pickles. Sometimes I like to throw a little curry into the pickling liquid; sometimes it’s all about the dill, a few cloves of smashed garlic, and a healthy sprinkling of red pepper flakes. If I’m using cucumbers, I usually add more sugar than if I’m using beans. You really can’t mess them up as long as you have water and vinegar and a few spices, and showing up to your friend’s house with a jar of pickles will definitely earn you rock star status.

I know some recipes call for sterilizing the jars, yada yada yada…but the pickles never last long enough at my house to go through all that trouble. If you are planning on storing them in your cellar along with salt pork, preserves, and potatoes to get you through winter, then, by all means, please sterilize your jars. Otherwise, consume within three weeks and it’s all good, ’cause, you know—vinegar!

I like to serve pickles in a pretty dish as part of my appetizer spread. They go nicely with some salty nuts and a creamy, mild cheese to cut the vinegary tang. And when you are going to visit your friend, tie a ribbon around a jar of those beautiful pickles and bask in the glow of their delight!

Here are some tips for using different veggies:

BEANS – Wash and trim. Drop them into boiling, salted water for about four minutes and then plunge them into an ice bath before pickling. They will still be crunchy, but won’t have that raw flavor.

CAULIFLOWER – Wash and cut into florets, then follow directions above for similar results.

ASPARAGUS – Wash and trim ends so stalks are the size of your jar. Drop them into boiling, salted water for about two minutes and then plunge them into an ice bath before pickling.

BEETS – Roast before pickling. To roast beets, preheat oven to 400° F, wash and trim ends,* wrap beets in foil with a little water and place in a baking dish to roast until a knife pierces easily (about 45 minutes for four medium beets). Once cool, slip off skins with your fingers and slice into rounds or wedges. *If the greens are fresh, save and sauté with a little olive oil, garlic, and salt & pepper—delicious!

CARROTS – Peel and cut carrots in half and then half again (and half again if your carrots are large). Trim to the size of your jar. Carrots can go in the pickling liquid raw. If you boil them, they get flabby. Nobody likes a flabby pickle.

FENNEL – Wash fennel and trim fronds (which can be put in the jar along with, or instead of, dill), remove any wilted outer layers. Cut bulb in half and slice crosswise.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

BASIC VEGETABLE PICKLE RECIPE
2 lbs. veggies
2 cups water
2½ cups distilled white vinegar
¼ cup kosher salt
⅛–¼ cup sugar (optional)
2–3 cloves garlic, smashed (optional)
2 tsp. whole peppercorns (optional)
2 tsp. whole coriander seeds (optional)
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
Bunch fresh dill

EQUIPMENT
You will need three half-liter canning jars. I like Weck 742 half-liter Mold jars. They have a really nice shape. (Sold in sets of six only. They are cheaper here than at Amazon. You can also get canning jars at World Market, Target, and most grocery stores.)

Combine water, vinegar, salt, sugar, garlic, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and red pepper flakes in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Pack veggies into about three half-liter jars and add several sprigs of dill. Remove garlic from pickling liquid. Fill jars with hot liquid and cap immediately. Admire the majesty of your pickles!

Wait until jars have reached room temperature, then refrigerate the pickles. You can start eating a few hours after pickling, but they’re best if you can wait 24 hours.

Keep one, give two away!

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Other variations to try (aka channeling your inner Jerry Garcia):

  • Add 1 tsp. curry powder.
  • Replace dill with fresh tarragon, basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, or mint (or a create a combo).
  • Include several strips of lemon peel.
  • Substitute whole fennel or mustard seeds (or try half and half) for coriander seeds.

 

Taking Liberteas

Author: Kirsten K., Cold Drinks, Food & Drink, Holidays, Tea

This time last year, we gave three cheers, but not everyone wants to celebrate the Spirit of ’76 by adding spirits to the mix. For those who forswear alcohol (or sugary drinks), you can offer a refreshing alternative to the usual 4th of July fare with this festive trio of teas. Featuring botanically-based hues of red, white, and blue, these caffeine-free* brews will be a natural at your patriotic party.

The crimson of classic Red Zinger from Celestial Seasonings comes from tangy hibiscus leaves, which impart their trademark “zing” with an assist from peppermint, sweet orange, lemongrass, and wild cherry bark.

What white tea lacks in color, it makes up for in character, and with eight varieties to choose from in The Republic of Tea’s line of 100% rare Chinese white teas—including Pineapple Guava, Cucumber Mint, and Asian Jasmine—you’ll find a flavor to please every palate.

But the sapphire shade of Blue-Tee from Wild Hibiscus Flower Co. is the real sparkler here. Made from pure butterfly pea flowers, this herbal tisane has been a Southeast Asian staple for centuries, but has found recent popularity in America due to its Instagram-worthy tint and peculiar properties. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and the blue brew turns a violet hue. Mix in milk and you get something resembling Bridget Jones’ leek soup.

By taking liberties with afternoon tea, this British tradition becomes as American as red, white, and blue, so for those who want to skip the soda and bypass the booze this Independence Day, add these stars to your backyard bars and give guests their freedom of choice.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Red Zinger Tea from Celestial Seasonings
White Tea from The Republic of Tea
Blue-Tee from Wild Hibiscus Flower Co.

 

Celestial Seasonings and The Republic of Tea can be found at most chain supermarkets. Wild Hibiscus Flower Co. teas are available at many Whole Foods and Sprouts markets. If you can’t find the tea, look for their b’lure Butterfly Pea Flower Extract at BevMo.

 

*Herbal teas like Red Zinger and butterfly pea flower are caffeine-free. The caffeine content of white teas can vary widely depending on type and processing. White teas from The Republic of Tea are low in caffeine.

 

 

Pass the Buck Mountain

Author: Kirsten K., Wellness

My dog is a rescue who’d already had an unfortunate name for three years when he came to live with me, so rather than change it, I simply began referring to him as “The Beast.” Of all the animal companions I’ve had in my life, he is the sweetest, the most loving…and the most undisciplined. He also has a thick coat of fur that gets on EVERYTHING* and creates a private playground for parasites like fleas and ticks.

Parasites may not seem like a swoon-worthy topic, but neither is waking up from a night of spooning with your pooch to find itchy bites running the length of your body. Rather than pass the buck—and the bucks—to a groomer for regular flea dips, or use toxic flea and tick medications that can have harmful side effects, I reach for the Buck Mountain Parasite Dust.

I came across this product in the office of a naturopathic vet where I used to take another one of my dogs. Unfortunately, that dog had a particular sensitivity to flea bites, and even the doctor acknowledged that natural products weren’t strong enough to treat him. But when I got The Beast and flea season arrived, I decided to see what happened once this dust had settled.

The powder has only three ingredients: organic neem (a natural insecticide), yarrow (a natural insect repellent), and diatom flour (a natural dessicant). When sprinkled from head to tail along your pet’s spine, then brushed against the direction of hair growth, the powder comes in contact with the skin and finds those critters where they crawl.

Pest-free and spoon-worthy.

Whenever The Beast starts scratching, I start sprinkling. Applying the powder and brushing it into your animal’s fur provides some nice mommy-and-me time, and you don’t have to worry about it harming either of you or the environment. The powder has a pleasant herbal smell and can be used on windowsills, thresholds, and your pet’s bedding to discourage infestations in the home.

I have read mixed reviews about this product online, so it might not work for every animal or situation, but each time I powder The Beast, the fleas take a powder. Brushing it in about once a week seems to do the trick.

Flea and tick season is well underway, so if you have pets and don’t want to contend with pests, pass on those harsh chemical treatments and pass the Buck Mountain instead.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Buck Mountain Parasite Dust

 

Buck Mountain Parasite Dust can be purchased from The Pet Health & Nutrition Center, Carol’s Pet Cafe, and a variety of other online retailers. It can also be found at many holistic veterinary centers and natural pet supply stores.

 

*In the Ken Burns documentary The Dust Bowl, one woman who was interviewed said:

“My mother was very clean…She would take all her curtains down one day and wash them and hang them back up. A dirt storm would come in that night, and they would be just like they were before she washed them. That went on day after day after day. And once in a while, you would hear of some woman that just couldn’t take it anymore and she’d commit suicide.”

The Beast’s hair is my Dust Bowl.

 

These Violet Delights

Author: Kirsten K., Food & Drink, Sweets

The last few weeks have been busy with not much time to stop and swoon…that is, until my friend Mika tipped me off to these new dark chocolate-covered violet marshmallows from Whole Foods and I dropped like a stone.

Of all the floral flavorings that Kirsti and I have written about, violet is my favorite. Add a true violet essence to soft, pillowy marshmallows, then dip them in dark chocolate—oh là là!

These confections are imported from France (where violet sweets are de rigueur) and taste just like the versions that Mika enjoyed when she lived in Lyon. True to their French provenance, these mauve guimauve are both charming and tasteful, providing the perfect blooming bite to serve as a snack, conclude a meal, or float in a cup of hot chocolate.

However, these violet delights have violet ends, because the box says “Limited Botanical Edition,” so head to Whole Foods tout de suite, because missing out on these cute sweets would be a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Whole Foods Dark Chocolate Violet Marshmallows

 

 

All That Jasmine

Author: Kirsten K., Cold Drinks, Food & Drink

After several days of “May Gray” here in Southern California, the sun finally broke through this week. Today has been cloudy and cool, but the weekend forecast calls for clear skies and temperatures in the high 80s. A whiff of summer is in the air. On my evening walks, the smell of night-blooming jasmine has been so thick that I can practically taste it, but if I want to actually taste it, I reach for a bottle of Jasmine Sparkling Essence Water from World Market.

Folks, there’s no way to describe the wonder of this water. It contains no sugar or other additives, just the essence of a thousand fragrant blossoms floating down an effervescent stream. As our regular readers know, Kirsti and I love floral flavorings, but while it’s common to find rose petal jam, lavender honey, and all that jazz on supermarket shelves, it’s more rare to come across culinary jasmine.

Of course, I enjoy drinking white and green jasmine teas, but they have a different, more delicate flavor than this sparkling water, which exudes a potent perfume similar to that of Medicine Flower’s jasmine extract. I found it tucked away on a shelf at the far back of my local World Market, so you might have to do a little hunting to sniff out this hidden gem, but it’s SO worth it.

Summer’s almost here, Swooners! Drink it in.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Jasmine Sparkling Essence Water

 

 

Royal Tea

Author: Kirsti Kay, Food & Drink, History, Hot Drinks, Nostalgia, Pop Culture, Tea

I remember when Princess Diana married Prince Charles. I got up in the middle of the night to watch the wedding on TV. It was the most spectacular wedding I had ever seen. That giant dress, the huge church filled with people, Diana’s perfectly feathered hair…I swooned and wondered what it would be like to be a princess.

Years later, I watched the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, also so lovely, with William in his red splendor, Kate in her modest, yet elegant, dress, and Pippa minding the train. The wedding was like a tasty British fairytale.

In 2011, master tea blenders Harney & Sons were commissioned to create a bespoke tea for the wedding of William and Kate. Now, with the impending nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19th, the tea is back!

Royal Wedding Tea is a white tea blended with pink rosebuds, cornflowers, marigold petals, and coconut and vanilla flavors. It is as beautiful as it is delicious. Flecks of pink rose petals are offset by the blue of the cornflowers and specks of marigold. The mild taste of the white tea is enhanced by the floral notes, and the addition of the vanilla and coconut give it a unique flavor that is fit for a princess, a duchess (Meghan Markle will be given the title Duchess of Sussex after the wedding), or even a girl from the Valley (me!).*

Come May 19th, I look forward to getting up in the middle of the night wearing my most regal pajamas, brewing a pot of Royal Wedding Tea, and shoving my face with scones, jam, and clotted cream. I might never be a princess or a duchess, but now I can drink tea like one, and that’s good enough for me.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Harney & Sons Royal Wedding Tea

 

The tin of sachets featured in this post is currently out of stock on the Harney & Sons website, but the loose tea is still available for purchase, so grab your share and a spare, or you may have to abdicate your chance to try this tea until the next royal wedding.

 

*I just found out that the future Duchess of Sussex is also a Valley girl, having grown up in Kirsten’s and my hometown of Woodland Hills. Like, OMG!

 

Three Is a Magic Number

Author: Kirsten K., Author: Kirsti Kay, Nostalgia, Pop Culture

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♪ ♫ Three is a magic number.
Yes it is, it’s a magic number.
On this day it’s our third anniversary.
We turn three—it’s a magic number.

The posts and the comments and the pictures
That form The Swoon Society,
The art and the puns and the stories
Give you three as a magic number. ♩ ♬


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Happy Swooniversary from

 

 

Three Is a Magic Number from the Schoolhouse Rock! series was written and sung by Bob Dorough.