The Hot Zone

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Drinks, Food, Food & Drink, Hot Drinks, Savories, Snacks, Sweets

Here in Southern California, we, like many others in this country and around the world, are under a “Stay at Home” order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We are still allowed to go out for essentials, but panic buying has left many store shelves empty of staple items. Due to the ever-present threat of earthquakes in California, I’ve always kept plenty of emergency food and supplies on hand—and, fortunately, I’d purchased TP shortly before everyone lost their minds and launched a thousand memes—but I ran out of a few basics last week, like dental floss and honey, so I was forced to venture out from my bunker.

It was the first time I’d seen all of the empty supermarket shelves for myself and I found it alarming, but also oddly amusing. At my local Sprouts market, every last bottle of water, carton of eggs, jug of milk, tray of meat, and bag of dried beans and rice was gone, but so was every single bag of tortilla and potato chips. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Americans consider chips to be a staple food.

I headed for the honey aisle, only to be brought up short again when I saw that this section, too, had been stripped bare. All of the varieties, from acacia to wildflower, were gone—except for a few squeeze bottles of Mike’s Hot Honey. Apparently, the honey hoarders couldn’t handle the heat, but I was already a fan of sweet and spicy condiments, so, with no other options available, I bought a bottle.

If not for the locusts locals descending on the sweetener section, I might never have discovered this fiery find. Infused with chilies, it gives a zesty zing to sauces, cocktails, and foods both sweet and savory. I enjoyed it with a cheese board I’d put together in preparation for a party that was cancelled at the last minute due to the lockdown. I’ve also substituted Mike’s Hot Honey for some of the sugar in my Castillian hot chocolate and added a dash of cinnamon, transporting it instantly from España to México. ¡Arriba!

With the news looking more and more like something out of The Hot Zone every day, I questioned whether I should even write this post. Given that there are those for whom food is scarce and the future uncertain, celebrating my quarantine comestibles may seem insensitive, but it’s increasingly apparent that the little pleasures of life—quiet time spent at home, a walk alone in fresh air, the daily habit of writing, and even a sweetly (and spicily!) unexpected discovery in the midst of a pandemic—can bring the greatest comfort in times of crisis, so we should enjoy them whenever possible.

However, I do NOT recommend that you rush out to the market if you’ve been ordered to stay in, so you may need to wait for a while before you can “Netflix and chili” with your honey, but if you need to restock some essential items and happen to come across Mike’s Hot Honey, take the heat!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Mike’s Hot Honey

 

Don’t want to wait? You can purchase Mike’s Hot Honey from Amazon or order online directly from the company’s website. For recipes—including a free digital recipe book—and other ideas for how to enjoy Mike’s Hot Honey, click here.

 

Creature of Habits

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature, Self-Improvement, Wellness

Hello, Swooners! It’s been a while. Four months, to be exact, since our last post and even longer since our last in-depth story. After a few years of writing for The Swoon Society, Kirsti and I began to experience an “enthusiasm gap” and decided to take a short break, but short-term behaviors can easily become long-term habits…

Years ago, I read the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and was slightly disconcerted to realize that almost everything we do—both self-serving and self-defeating—is simply a habit we got into somewhere along the way. While a new habit can overwrite an old one, the neural pattern for the old habit still exists in the brain, lying dormant until something comes along to reactivate it. This explains how, months or even years after adopting a positive habit, we can suddenly fall off the wagon and find ourselves right back in the throes of the negative habit we thought we’d kicked.

I am usually good about establishing habits when I’m highly motivated, but I can’t always figure out why some habits stick, while others fall away. I enjoy exercise and take long, nightly walks with my dog, but I’ve struggled to maintain a consistent upper body workout. I might do push-ups several times one week, then slip to once or twice the next week, and do nothing at all for a week or two after that, despite having a strong desire to be strong.

For this reason, an online article caught my eye recently. The teaser mentioned that a man had strengthened his upper body by developing the habit of doing just two push-ups every time he went to the bathroom. I was intrigued enough to read the entire article, which introduced me to the Tiny Habits method from Stanford behavior scientist BJ Fogg.

In his book I learned that, over years of personal experimentation and research with large numbers of people, BJ discovered some key components of successful habit formation:

    1. Start TINY. When he wanted to develop the habit of flossing his teeth daily, BJ began by flossing ONE tooth, then built on that until he was eventually flossing all of them. If he was short on time or simply not feeling it one day, he’d scale back and floss just one tooth, because that was his original habit, and even this small action served to reinforce it.
      .
    2. Create a recipe. To remind yourself to do the desired habit without needing a Post-It note or alarm on your phone, do it immediately after some other activity in your day that’s already habitual. Using the original example above, BJ’s recipe for upper body exercise would be: “After I use the bathroom, I will do two push-ups.” Rehearsing the sequence a few times in succession is often enough to decisively link these behaviors in your mind. (My favorite trick from a Tiny Habiteer featured in the book is to use a negative event or habit as the trigger to do something positive for yourself, helping you to instantly turn that frown upside down.)
      .
    3. Celebrate! BJ emphasized that this easily-overlooked action is actually one of the most important for lasting habit formation. By following the activity with a moment of celebration, the behavior becomes hardwired in the brain as something associated with a reward, making it more likely to “take.” How you celebrate will be unique to you, but some ideas are to pump your fist in the air, kick up your heels, or say, “Yes!”
      .
    4. Begin with three habits. Conventional wisdom suggests that you develop one habit at a time—then, once it’s established, try to add another and another—but BJ advises focusing on the system of habit formation rather than on a single habit. By starting with three habits, you’ll reinforce the practice of using regular, daily activities as triggers to do the new, desired behaviors.

The steps above are an extreme simplification of what’s in the book, which contains abundant examples and in-depth explanations for how and why these steps work. And they DO work. Since discovering this method, I’ve become a creature of habits, quickly establishing several daily behaviors that I’d previously failed at doing consistently for months or even years…including writing for this blog again by taking just one minute to type out my thoughts each time I sit down in front of the computer.

BJ Fogg believes that his method is nothing less than a revolution in how to approach and achieve long-term change. Based on my experience so far, he may be right, so join the movement and find out how Tiny Habits can make a BIG impact in your life.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Tiny Habits

 

I highly recommend listening to the Tiny Habits audiobook, which is read by the author. There’s an inspirational preface (not included in the print version) in which he explains how he used Tiny Habits to overcome some lifelong speech issues and earn the right to narrate his own book.

To get started right away with the Tiny Habits method, click here and follow the link to “Your next step” at the end of each page.

 

World War Zzz

Author: Kirsten K., Author: Kirsti Kay, Holidays

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We’ve been busy swooning instead of blogging,
but even though we’ve checked out recently,
we’re checking in on one of our favorite days
of the year to let you know that we haven’t
been turned into mindless zombies—yet.

..

🎃 Have fun “passing out”💤 candy, Swooners! 🍬

💀 Happy Halloween! 💀

 

This pumpkin was carved using a Victorian zombie silhouette and tools from Pumpkin Masters.

 

Cover Story

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Fine Art, Literature, The Arts

Neither Kirsti nor I has posted anything for The Swoon Society in more than two months due to, among other things, a number of milestone birthdays in our circle of family and friends, a graduation, out-of-town guests, an overscheduled social calendar (Kirsti), general laziness (me), and simple inertia—a blog at rest tends to stay at rest. But I am suspending this spontaneous sabbatical to celebrate the birthday of someone who literally turned swooning into an art form: romance cover illustrator Elaine Duillo.

Classic cover art collection or cry for help – my chronic case of “Elainia.”

Before retiring in 2003 from an illustrious (emphasis on lust) 44-year career, Elaine’s artwork graced more than 1,000 book covers, ranging from science fiction and mysteries to Gothics and—most notably—romance. I discovered her cover art as a teen, when I developed an interest in historical romantic fiction while babysitting, of all things. Some mothers would leave their books lying around the house and I’d read them to pass the time while the kids slept. Among titles by authors such as Shirlee Busbee, Johanna Lindsey, Christina Skye, and Bertrice Small, I noticed that certain covers were particularly eye-catching, with vibrant colors, incredible detail, beautiful period clothing, and scenes from the story playing out in the periphery around a couple in a classic “clinch” pose.

A sampling of Elaine Duillo’s hair-oines.

Whenever I came across this singular style, I’d flip to the back of the title page to see the words “Cover art by Elaine Duillo.” If there was no attribution, a quick scan for her swirling signature hidden within the painting would confirm the identity of the artist. And the original was an actual painting, despite the fact that her photoreal style could almost fool the eye into thinking it was an embellished photograph.

In the mid-1980s, Elaine hired an Italian fashion model named Fabio Lanzoni to pose for one of her illustrations and launched him into superstardom as a romance cover model. After that, her covers were in high demand, but—while their prolific partnership was a huge success—I was more likely to swoon over the flawless features, gorgeous gowns, daring décolletage, and down-to-there hair of her heroines.* Forget the hunky hero, I wanted to be one of these bombshells. While my friends were looking to the covers of Seventeen, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar for their unrealistic beauty standards, I was looking to the covers of Angel in Scarlet, Defy Not the Heart, and Hellion (one of my favorite Duillo illustrations, with no bare-chested beefcake in sight).

Shortly after college, I got a job at a romance audiobook company, which had recently moved into new, spartan offices. I’d read that Elaine Duillo was offering some of her romance covers for sale as posters, so when I saw her contact information in our Rolodex (squee!), I wrote to her. After introducing myself and fangirling a bit, I explained our situation and joked, “We’re looking at bare walls when we’d rather be looking at bare chests.” She responded with a sweet note and an order form featuring four of her illustrations. We didn’t end up buying any of her art for the office, but I later managed to score a promotional Johanna Lindsey poster featuring one of Elaine’s paintings surrounded by several of her covers.

While I viewed many of these types of illustrations (including works by Robert McGinnis and Pino Daeni) as fine art, I also enjoyed the over-the-top campiness of others, but some readers were embarrassed to be seen in public with these books, so publishers came up with the “step-back”: an innocuous front cover that could be turned back to reveal the passionate pose beneath. Eventually, changing tastes in the industry led to the evolution of cover art away from the kind of fanciful and lushly romantic images for which artists like Elaine Duillo were known.

For many years, illustrators—especially those in the field of romance cover art—did not receive the respect or recognition they were due, but in June of 2003, the prestigious Society of Illustrators in New York presented Elaine Duillo with a Lifetime Achievement Award and inducted her into its Hall of Fame, an honor worthy of “The Queen of Romance Cover Art.”

Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a cache of covers, calendars, articles, advertisements, and more relating to Elaine Duillo and her art, including the premier issue of Imaginings, a short-lived newsletter celebrating “The Art of Romance,” and Book 1 of Pro-Illustration: A Guide to Professional Techniques. I used to regularly visit a secondhand bookstore in my area that sold romance paperbacks for just a dollar or two, including many of the so-called “bodice rippers” that Elaine illustrated. Like so many bookstores in recent years, it was forced to close, so I’m glad I stocked up. You know, for the pictures. That’s my cover story, and I’m sticking to it!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice in this post:

Elaine Duillo

 

*When I was taking a class on psychology in advertising years ago, I read of a study in which researchers tracked subjects’ eye movements as they were shown pictures of a man and woman in a suggestive pose, finding that males and females both tended to look at the woman first and longest.

 

Fantastic Four

Author: Kirsten K., Author: Kirsti Kay

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♪ ♫ On an internet adventure,
They wrote posts while in a daze,
And the two were changed forever,
In some most swoon-worthy ways.

So raise a cheer, it’s here:
The blog turns four! Fantastic Four!
♩ ♬

..

💥Happy 4th Swooniversary!💥

 

Lyrics adapted from the opening theme of the 1994-1996 Fantastic Four television show based on the comic book series.

 

The Bloom of Health

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

Kombucha—that tart and trendy fermented tea beloved by hipsters and health nuts alike—can be an acquired taste, but it’s one I acquired long ago when “going raw” was all the rage and the only bottles of this beneficial elixir one could find on the shelves of natural foods stores were brewed by GT Dave.

At the time, I worked at an alternative healthcare center and had to pass by Whole Foods on my way home, so I’d frequently stop in for a bottle of GT’s Kombucha and enjoy a brief buzz from the fermentation. This was before most brands were recalled from store shelves in 2010 for reformulation to comply with alcohol limits. When they returned later that year, they had the same acetic zing and healthful probiotic cultures, but weren’t quite as fun anymore.

Until, that is, I caught the bouquet of this Bloom Spring Edition Kombucha from GT’s Living Foods. The blend of raw, organic kombucha with elderflower, jasmine, and violet hits all the right notes* while combining to create a unique floral flavor all its own. If you’ve been wary of trying kombucha or haven’t developed a taste for it—yet—Bloom might just grow on you.

While I feel a sense of well-being whenever I drink kombucha, the health benefits of this beverage are still being debated, but you can benefit Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation every time you post a selfie on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with your bottle of @GTsKombucha and the hashtag #InFullBloom. GT’s Living Foods will donate $5 to the organization for each post through the end of June, so drink up and help this flower empower youth while putting you #InFullSwoon.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

GT’s Bloom Spring Edition Kombucha

 

GT’s Kombucha can be found in the refrigerated section at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and most major supermarkets and natural foods stores.

 

*If they’d also added rose, I might not be able to calm down.

 

True Colors

Author: Kirsten K., Crafts, Holidays

This year, Easter arrives the day before Earth Day, which is a timely reminder to make sustainable choices when celebrating this holiday of rebirth and renewal. Consider one of these green alternatives to plastic Easter grass, then fill your basket with goodies from Natural Candy Store. Along with natural and organic jelly beans, lollipops, foil-wrapped eggs, and chocolate bunnies, this online emporium sells a superb set of Natural Easter Egg Decorating Colors.

These six vegetable powders from TruColor make potent natural dyes that are specially designed to color eggs (or alternatives). Ingredients like red cabbage and purple sweet potato provide a vibrant stain that deepens as it dries. Unlike the traditional method I learned growing up, which involved submerging eggs for five minutes in a mixture of boiling water, vinegar, and synthetic food coloring, dyeing eggs with these natural colors is as easy as 1, 2, 3:

  1. Mix powder with water in a cup.
  2. Let sit until completely dissolved.
  3. Submerge egg for one minute.

In just 60 seconds, the colors surpassed pastel and grew in hue, so play around with the amount of powder, water, and time for a basketful of options (such as diluting the dye mixture at intervals to create ombré eggs). You can also mix equal parts powder and water for applying color directly to the eggs with a paintbrush. Enter your “eggcellent” creation in the 2019 Easter Egg Natural Decorating Contest by April 21st (instructions and contest rules are included with your natural dye kit) and your artistry may be rewarded with a $100 gift certificate to Natural Candy Store. Sweet!

Once you’ve finished dyeing your eggs, you can use the leftover powder for cake and cookie decorating to make earth-friendly and people-pleasing holiday treats, so show your true colors on Easter while honoring Earth Day as you celebrate this spring awakening the natural way.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Natural Easter Egg Decorating Colors

 

Natural Candy Store is currently offering 10% off your entire order, including savings of up to 50% on overstock Easter-themed candy, plus a free gift for any $20 minimum purchase. Consult this chart for Easter shipping deadlines and get hopping!

 

Erin Go Bread

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

My version of this recipe defies all raisin.

For as long as I can remember, my mother has made Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick’s Day. She is not Irish, nor is anyone on either side of my family (as far as we know), but every year in mid-March, I receive a freshly-baked loaf from her kitchen.

The recipe was found in a church cookbook compiled years ago from favorites submitted by parishioners as a fundraising effort. The Irish Soda Bread entry is credited to Pat O’Connor, whose name inspires confidence in the authenticity of the recipe, but neither the shape nor the texture of this bread resembles the traditional raisin-studded, round loaves with a cross cut into the top that I typically see for sale at this time of year.

That suits me just fine, though, since—unlike most Irish Soda Bread I’ve tried—this version is super m-word (I’m not allowed to write or say it!), with a light, sweet flavor and an unusual texture that I’d describe as slightly, though not unpleasantly, “rubbery.” In any case, it’s SO easy to make that why would you buy one of those dry, rustic-looking loaves when you can pull this church-sanctioned knockoff from your oven in no time?

Like St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, my mother drives the raisins out of my Irish Soda Bread each year and replaces them with chocolate chips, so I ask you: who’s the real saint? It may not be traditional, but it’s tradition in my family. Every March 17th, along with the wearing (and sharing) o’ the green, my mother and I enjoy an Irish coffee with a slice from this recipe. Erin Go Bread!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

IRISH SODA BREAD

1 cup sugar
1 egg
3 cups sifted flour
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup raisins (or chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350°. Cream sugar and egg. Add sifted flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix in buttermilk. Add raisins (or chocolate chips!). Bake for one hour.

 

Brew Love

Author: Kirsten K., Coffee, Food & Drink, Hot Drinks

As I’ve written before, I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker until a few years ago. Even then, I’d only indulge a couple of times a week and would often take a break from coffee altogether for a month or more, but over the past year my boss has developed an addiction to Starbucks’ Chai Tea Latte—and addicts don’t like to drink alone.

She began bribing me to pick up her tea by offering to buy me a coffee, so each time I went I’d order whatever was featured on the board that day. Eventually, I moved through most of the menu (recently finding a favorite in their seasonal Juniper Latte), so when my mother informed me that she’d read about Starbucks’ new Rose Hazelnut Latte, I jumped at the chance to try it…only to discover that it’s actually available from The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (mothers, amirite?).

Most people have taken sides in the Battle of the Brew, with SEAL* Team Starbucks in one camp and the “Bean” Berets in another, but I see myself as a sip-lomat—able to reconcile both. Since there’s a Coffee Bean location less than one mile from my house, I raced right over and HOLY HAZELNUT, THIS LATTE IS DELICIOUS!

Rose and hazelnut is not an obvious pairing, and I had been dubious about this duo, but it was like magic in my mouth. The rose dominates, while the hazelnut provides a subtle note of warmth. A common complaint with floral flavors is that they can taste like soap or perfume, but this rose is strong and sweet without being cloying. My mother, who doesn’t typically enjoy florals, declared this drink to be the best latte she’s ever tasted. Kirsti gave it an A+.

I have since tried both the iced and Ice Blended® versions (although I prefer it hot) and gained name recognition among the baristas, who informed me yesterday that this is a seasonal flavor—presumably for Valentine’s Day—which will only stick around for another week! Once I picked myself up off the floor, I began to gear up for a campaign to rescue Rose Hazelnut from retirement, because this is BREW LOVE, and brew love is supposed to last forever.

So get your latte while it’s hotte (or iced) and join me in contacting the company before this delightful drink becomes a has-bean.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Rose Hazelnut Latte

 

“Stellar” Espresso And Lattes

 

Sex and the Valley – A Cocktail for Valentine’s Day

Author: Kirsti Kay, Cocktails, Drinks, Entertaining, Entertainment, Food & Drink, Recipes, Spirits, Television

The first time I had a cosmopolitan, I was at a trendy bar off Melrose Ave. called The Pearl. I was 25 and newly living in Hollywood. I felt so cool holding my oversized martini glass with the tart pink elixir, which tasted like a grown-up Jolly Rancher. I think I had four of them. Later that night, I threw up, and that was the last time I had a cosmopolitan for over 20 years.

Later, of course, Sex and the City made the cosmo famous. Did that tempt me? Nope. I wasn’t into drinking trendy drinks anymore. I drank red wine. I read Bukowski and made fun of drinks like cosmopolitans and apple martinis. Now I live in the Valley. I still drink red wine and I still like Bukowski, but I have definitely become less judgmental about what other people like to drink.

Recently, my friend Cindy served cosmos when my husband and I went to her house. I dubiously accepted the martini glass. I took a sip. It was unexpectedly delicious. And then, at my friend Christy’s, I was poured a freshly made cosmopolitan from a fancy pitcher, and again I was delighted by its refreshing pucker. I had come full circle back into girly cocktail territory. Were mom jeans next? Why even try to overthink it? A tasty draaaank is a tasty draaaank! The cosmopolitan was back and I was all in.

Cut to last weekend: my friend Lorne was staying with us and we invited Cindy and our friends Kelli and Doug over for dinner. Cindy was bringing some lovely wine for the shrimp pasta I was making, but I thought it would be fun to have a cocktail when everyone arrived. I thought about that damn cosmopolitan, and the newfound happiness it had brought me, and decided to make them.

You may recall that I did a post a few months back about Ketel One Botanical vodkas. To shake things up, I used the Ketel One Rose & Grapefruit vodka for my cosmos, and it definitely lent a mysterious, but much commented on, floral note that elevated the cocktail from the toast of ’90s Manhattan to sophisticated Valley Girl (I realize that might not be a great analogy, but this Valley Girl is sticking to it). Everyone loved it. Like, kinda freaked out.

Since Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, I thought it might be a good time to share the recipe. Put on your best Manolo Blahniks—or, in my case, some old comfy slippers—whip up a batch of these pretty-in-pink cocktails, and live it up à la Carrie Bradshaw. Just don’t drink four of them.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

SEX AND THE VALLEY COSMOPOLITAN COCKTAIL
(adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten)
Serves 4

1 cup Ketel One Rose & Grapefruit vodka (or your favorite vodka)
½ cup Triple Sec or Cointreau
½ cup sweetened cranberry juice
¼ cup freshly-squeezed lime juice (just do it)
Lime wheels for garnish (optional)
Organic rose petals for garnish (optional)

Pour ingredients into a large cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until cold. Pour into four martini or coupe glasses. Garnish with a lime wheel and an organic rose petal.