The Swoon Society Holiday Gift L.I.S.T.

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

For fabulous holiday finds, check out our
Lovely Item Shopping Tips
and check off all the names on your list.

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We looked for swoon-worthy gift ideas all year long, then made a list (and checked it twice) to help our Swooners “pass out” the perfect presents for any occasion this holiday season. For more shopping tips, see our 2015 Holiday G.I.F.T. Guide and 2016 Holiday W.I.S.H. List.
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KIRSTI’S PICKS

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ERNESTO CANDLE FROM TRUDON $95
A friend has this candle, and I kept making excuses to come over just so I could smell the intoxicating scent waft through his house while we drank martinis and sat by his outdoor fireplace (OK, there are also other awesome reasons to visit). I have my own candle now and friends are “dropping by” a bit more often, it seems. It smells like a sexy church with a hint of what I imagine Jon Snow smells like. It also comes in a large format size ($495). Winter is coming, after all.

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MONSERAT DE LUCCA JEWELRY $20-155 and up
Why is everything in miniature so cute? A necklace holding a tiny set of chef’s knives? Yes! A brass fly? Definitely! A screw? Maybe, if you get me one of these necklaces.

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GOLD CIRCLE CHOKER $21
This delicate choker will surely stoke her. (See what I did there?)

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HEMP HOLEY VINTAGE WHITE BOXY TEE $43
Made of 60% hemp, this t-shirt is truly dope. Hemp is 4x more durable than cotton and gets softer with each wash. The oversized boxy fit looks great on everyone.

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JO LOVES FRAGRANCE PAINTBRUSH $55
Jo Malone has concocted a delightful new way of applying scent—just “paint” on your skin. The gel formula dries almost instantly and holds onto the fragrance, so it lasts longer. With scents such as Pomelo, Green Orange & Coriander, Red Truffle 21, and White Rose & Lemon Leaves, it’s hard to decide on only one.

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TWELVE NIGHTS OF WINE BY VINEBOX $129
Vinebox has curated single glasses of wine packaged in 12 adorable “test tubes.” An Advent calendar countdown has never been so fun!

If you feel like splurging on your favorite oenophile, you can get one year of wine flights for $300.

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DAZZLING LIGHTS NAIL POLISH FROM YVES SAINT LAURENT $28 each
A sparkling stocking stuffer that will look very fancy paired with Christmas morning jammies or peeking out of those strappy NYE sandals. Available in Red Lights or Gold Fire.

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NIKE CLASSIC CORTEZ SNEAKERS $70
White sneakers are all the rage. Get the ones that started it all.

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VINTAGE BOOK ORNAMENTS $3-8 each
What do you get the bookworm who has everything? Why, an ornament that has hand-cut and curled vintage pages from their favorite book, of course! It’s like a ship in a bottle for the literary set. There are tons of books to choose from and they even do custom orders.

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LE LABO SANTAL 33 SIGNATURE DETERGENT BY THE LAUNDRESS $45
Last year I wrote about this perfume for our Holiday W.I.S.H. List. This year it’s all about the laundry detergent. Trust me on this one. It’s life-changing (and super concentrated, so a little goes a long way), and something she won’t buy for herself.

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MILK MAKEUP A TEAM MINIS $39
I can’t get enough of these Milk Makeup sticks. I use the Holographic stick every day on my cheekbones and the glitter stick when I go out on the town. To have all these little babies would be truly swoon-worthy!

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SEEDLIP NON-ALCOHOLIC SPIRITS $45
If you are concerned about what to get your teetotaling friend or boss for the holidays, your search is over! As blogged about at The Swoon Society, this distilled elixir is fancy and very tasty. It contains no alcohol, but delightfully mimics the feeling of having a cocktail. Pour into a vintage coup with a splash of tonic water and you might just be the one to start the conga line at the company party.

 

KIRSTEN’S PICKS

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BELLE GLOS PINOT NOIR $55
These California wines receive high marks from reviewers, but I’ll have to take their word for it, since I can’t bring myself to defile the gorgeous wax seal. Combined with Spencerian-style script on the label, these bottles bring to mind the correspondence of another age, but in this day and age they communicate goodwill toward men (and women) as holiday and host/ess gifts. The dramatic presentation makes a seasonal statement that will have recipients waxing rhapsodic about these heady redheads, so ditch the gift bags, because when it comes to holiday giving, this wine is a wrap.
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CRANBERRY JELLY CANDIES $12.32
These classic French pâtes de fruits get a holiday twist with tart cranberry flavor and festive red-and-green packaging. Slim enough to slip in a stocking and sophisticated enough to offer as a host or hostess gift, each box has 20 jewel-like jellies nestled within. And, since they’re sold by Natural Candy Store, you can be sure that they’re completely free of artificial ingredients, so share these seasonal sweets and enjoy liberty, fraternity…and cranberry!
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VIOLET MOON SHIMMER CREAM $15
We at The Swoon Society are voracious for violet, so we can’t get enough of the violet-scented body care products from Sensuous Beauty. I always carry the Vivacious Violet Lip & Eye Balm in my purse, but it’s fun to add a little sparkle to the season—and the skin—with their Violet Moon Shimmer Cream. Made with natural cocoa butter and a pinch of pixie dust, it will reflect the twinkle of the tree and make you the star of any holiday gathering, so gather up several for gift giving, because the ladies on your list will take a shine to this shimmer.
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OPEN BOOK CUP AND SAUCER $10
An open book and a cup of tea go together like Miss Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Bibliophiles and tea drinkers will flip for this delightful duo, featuring a ceramic cup resting atop the open pages of a book-shaped saucer. (This set was showcased in Kirsti’s post about Tea Drops, which would make a great companion gift or stocking stuffer.) Sold by the Library of Congress, it makes a “capitol” contribution to your holiday haul.

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THEORY11 PLAYING CARDS $5-10
When it comes to seasonal gift-giving, stack the deck in your favor by dealing out these stunning packs of playing cards. Whether used for blackjack hits or magic tricks, a box of cards will get the party started, while the loners on your list can shuffle off to play solitaire. With more than 30 styles to choose from, many with gilt embossing and intriguing origins, a happy holiday is in the cards.

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CHINA RAIN PERFUME OIL $14-64
The film version of Ready Player One is set to release in the not-too-distant future, so expect 80s nostalgia to come back in vogue. Get “ready” with this classic perfume that was all the rage when Kirsti and I were in high school. There are many imitators, but the original China Rain® was created by Body Time, which still sells the perfume oil in several sizes, including a convenient roll-on that we used to toss in our backpacks and back pockets. Get one for yourself and you, too, can be a China Girl.

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WOODEN INKLESS PEN
 $39
After reaching in my purse one too many times to pull out a broken pencil or dried-up pen, this revolutionary writing implement is now on my personal wish list. With a beautiful walnut or zebrawood body and patented alloy tip that never needs sharpening, it’s a space-age tool that has the write stuff whenever you need it.

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EARL GREY TEA JELLY $5.50
A great gift for the tea lovers and foodies on your list, this curious condiment contains just three ingredients: organic tea, organic sugar, and pectin. While the kettle is on, enjoy toast and tea without waiting for the whistle, or serve with a sliced baguette and soft cheese to demonstrate your hospitali-tea. Makes a wonderful stocking (and mouth) stuffer, so be sure to stock up on this stuff.

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THE GAME OF KINGS BY DOROTHY DUNNETT $13
Not to be confused with A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (himself a Dunnett devotee), this first book in The Lymond Chronicles introduces readers to 16th-century Scottish nobleman Francis Crawford of Lymond—a Renaissance man and accused outlaw who has returned home to clear his name and exact revenge against the man who framed him for treason. If you love Outlander, be aware that author Diana Gabaldon is also a fan of Dorothy Dunnett, who joined us for a portion of our trip to Scotland in 1997. The six volumes in The Lymond Chronicles have been optioned by the producers of the television series Poldark, so get the hardcore historical fiction lovers on your list started with the first book and you’ll have gifts for several occasions to come.

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OCTAGONAL BASE WINDOW LIGHT
$32
A practical gift that will be appreciated for years, this electric taper suffuses any space with the warm glow of candlelight—no need for batteries, drip catchers…or a fire extinguisher. Unlike many window lights that are made from cheap, gold-tone plastic, the base of this fixture is solid brass with a slip-resistant bottom and a laquered finish that means it will maintain its sheen without polishing. I keep a pair on my piano year-round, but move them onto the windowsill during the holidays to extend a warm welcome on cold December nights. These lights sell out every year before the end of Black Friday weekend, so look for the best deal of the season in the coming week (usually 30% off with free shipping—no minimum) and don’t miss this window of opportunity.

 

And, lastly, recipients will be “overcome” by a gift from The Swoon Society S.H.O.P.
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Season’s Shopping, Swooners!

 

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Green Fairy Tale

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Drinks, Entertainment, Food & Drink, History, Movies, Recipes, Spirits

Twenty-five years ago today, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was released in theaters. Being a fangirl (emphasis on “fang”), I flew out to see it, but amidst the gore and gothic romance, one scene sank its teeth into me:

Count Dracula fills a glass with green liquid, then pours water from a carafe over a sugar cube, which rests on an intricate silver spoon suspended atop the glass. He tells Mina, “Absinthe is the aphrodisiac of the self. The green fairy who lives in the absinthe wants your soul, but you are safe with me.” Mina takes the sugar cube and sucks on it with a look of ecstasy on her face.

Needless to say, I swooned.

For the past decade, absinthe has been enjoying a revival, but back in 1992, I hadn’t heard of it. The public Internet was in its infancy, so I had to do some old-fashioned library research in order to learn more about this mysterious drink. I discovered that it was a popular libation in Gilded Age Paris that was purported to have psychedelic properties and had been credited with inspiring great works of impressionist art, literature, and music. It had also been illegal in the United States since 1915.

Absinthe is a potent alcoholic drink featuring a mixture of botanicals, including sweet anise, fennel, lemon balm, star anise, and peppermint. One primary ingredient is grande wormwood, an herb containing high levels of thujone, long thought to be responsible for absinthe’s mind-altering effects. Due to its transformational nature and the vivid green color of the liquid, drinking absinthe became known as “romancing the green fairy.” It was believed to be highly addictive and, in the lead-up to Prohibition, took the blame for many of the social problems of the day.

The forbidden always seems more exotic, so I plotted to get my hands on a bottle, but years passed without success. I traveled to New Orleans in the spring of 2000 and visited the site of the Old Absinthe Bar where, ironically, there was not a drop of absinthe to be had due to the continued ban on its importation, but I was not the only one who’d caught absinthe fever. That same year, a product called Absente was released in America. Marketed as the first legal absinthe in the U.S. since the ban, it was made using a process similar to the original 19th-century versions, replacing the wormwood with southernwood and adding sugar.

I immediately purchased a bottle, along with their matching absinthe-style glasses and spoons. Still infatuated with the ritual that I’d seen at the cinema and read about in my research, I reverently set up my glass and spoon, placing the sugar cube just so, then carefully poured ice-cold water over the sugar and into the glass of Absente. I watched, captivated, as they combined to create la louche—the magical alchemy that transforms clear, emerald-hued absinthe into the opaline shade of green milk glass. This was finally happening! I brought the glass to my lips and took a sip.

In the build-up to this moment, I’d never entertained the thought that anticipation of a thing is often greater than the thing itself. I had also failed to consider that absinthe contains two types of anise—a flavor I don’t favor. Further, I’d never been a fan of hard liquor. Even watered down and sweetened up, this brew was robust, to say the least. I could only choke down about half of the liquid.

Disappointed, but unbowed, I wasn’t quite ready to abandon my quest for true absinthe. Despite discovering that I didn’t dig the drink, I still yearned to experience the heady effects that had inspired artists like Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec and authors such as Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway, so the search carried on and I continued to accrue absinthe accoutrements.

Helping to keep the dream alive, absinthe was featured in two movies released in 2001. The first was Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!, in which several characters savor the spirit and subsequently hallucinate a green fairy in the form of Kylie Minogue. A few months later, I found myself once again in the theater staring up at a stunning bottle of absinthe in From Hell, where Johnny Depp’s character is at once chasing the dragon and romancing the green fairy.

Eventually, Kirsti—who’d caught the absinthe bug from me—convinced a friend who was traveling to the Czech Republic to smuggle a bottle of genuine absinthe back to the U.S. for us. Bottle finally in hand, we set out our paraphernalia and prepared to imbibe. This was it.

Antique silver absinthe spoons are highly collectible, but these stainless steel versions are beautiful and affordable.

I didn’t feel the same thrill I’d experienced when preparing to drink Absente for the first time, but we performed the revered ritual and drank up. I finished my entire glass and even had another, but as the evening progressed, I never felt more than a slight buzz from the alcohol—no symphonies heard, stanzas conceived, or scenes envisioned, and not a single flash of fairy wings.

The romance was officially over.

My absinthe-related supplies and books were relegated to a dusty shelf, while the bottle of contraband liquor languished in a cabinet. This would have been the end of the story if not for our friend Mika, who, in addition to being a trained opera singer and pastry chef, is a talented mixologist with a knack for dreaming up delicious drinks. She likes to rinse a glass with absinthe before constructing a cocktail, or incorporate a small measure in the mixture itself, imparting an almost floral note that I find enchanting. Like many a skilled composer, she doesn’t always transcribe her technique, but BuzzFeed compiled a convenient list of absinthe cocktails for those who don’t take their liquor neat—or too seriously.

Hidden within this vintage-inspired artwork by Robert Rodriguez are the names of Tempus Fugit’s absinthes.

If you have the heart of a true absintheur, you’re in luck! Absinthe was officially legalized in the United States in 2007, leading to a flood of options for enthusiasts. Absente was reformulated to contain actual wormwood, and even Marilyn Manson got in on the game with his acclaimed version, Mansinthe. Many are of high quality, but beware of imitations. I tried one that looked more like mouthwash than absinthe and did not form a louche when water and sugar were added. We at The Swoon Society are partial to Vieux Pontarlier, a pre-ban absinthe from Tempus Fugit Spirits, purveyors of luscious liqueurs in beautiful bottles.

Despite some conflict along the way, this green fairy tale has a happy ending, so raise a glass in cheers to a journey of 25 years, but opt for emerald and skip the silver…unless there are vampires about.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Absinthe

 

Have you caught the bug? For detailed information about the history, ingredients, and ritual of absinthe, visit Absinthe Fever.

 

Living Memori

Author: Kirsten K., Fragrance, Wellness

One of my favorite examples of a memento mori, “All Is Vanity” was drawn by illustrator Charles Allan Gilbert when he was just 18 years old.

Death is in the air at this time of year. Reminders of our mortality abound in the form of styrofoam headstones on suburban hillsides, ghost-shaped bed sheets billowing from branches, and costumed skeletons stalking the streets. All Hallow’s Eve gives way to Día de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead, on which family and friends remember loved ones who have died. At Catholic school, where Kirsti and I met, All Souls’ Day was observed each November 2nd to commemorate the souls of Christians who’ve passed on (sorry, heathens, you’re S.O.L.—Souls Outta Luck).

It is in this “spirit” that natural perfumer Mandy Aftel created Memento Mori for Aftelier, her Berkeley, California-based fragrance atelier (clever!). Memento mori is Latin for “remember that you have to die,” and this sentiment has been depicted in art throughout the ages to remind us that our time in these bodies is both fragile and fleeting. To create a similar work of art using her perfumer’s palette, Mandy sought to “capture the musk-like smell of skin” with aromatic essences ranging from ambergris to wood violet.

When I first inhaled the scent, it reminded me of Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo in New Orleans, a city that has itself elevated the celebration of life and death to an art form. There is something exotic, yet comforting, about the fragrance—a recognition of the simultaneous yearning to explore the new and unusual while clinging to the familiar and dearly beloved (or departed). I don’t know if I was influenced by the description, but it does call to mind the scent of sun-warmed skin, especially when emanating from the warmth of my own skin.

Mandy has said that Memento Mori was a deeply personal perfume for her to create, but perfume is also deeply personal to the wearer, both in the choice of fragrance and how it morphs and changes on each individual to create a unique blend of scent and self. It is a living thing, which is appropriate for a composition meant to remind us that, though our time here may be short-lived, it should be well-lived. So seize the day AND the spray, because Memento Mori may be one of the finest fragrances in living memory.


Stuff  Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Memento Mori

 

Memento Mori is also available as a 2 ml miniature or 8 ml (¼ oz.) liquid perfume. Not ready to commit? Try a sample.

 

The Grim Swooner

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

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You may not have heard that the fearsome Grim Reaper
Has one distant cousin who’s more of a sleeper,
But she isn’t cursed (as her rep would suggest)
To be ushering souls to their eternal rest.
No, her singular talent is rather amusing—
That is, if you don’t mind spontaneous snoozing.
She sneaks up behind you and gives you a tap,
And you fall into some kind of transient nap.

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Now, while this might not seem major cause for complaint,
It is quite inconvenient to drop in a faint,
And since she’s the black sheep of the family Grim,
She’s determined that she’ll steal the spotlight from Him.
For some time she’s believed she’s got something to prove,
And it’s on Halloween that she’s planning her move,
So please stay on alert and don’t dare to impugn her,
Or you might be visited by the Grim Swooner.


🎃 Happy Halloween! 🎃

 

 

This pumpkin was carved using tools from Pumpkin Masters.

 

You Say Tomato, I Say Yum!

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

It’s easy to get in an appetizer rut. I think I have done a hundred different variations on a cheese plate and, while always a crowd pleaser, it’s…well…boring. I have a few other appies on regular rotation (some have even appeared in this blog), but it’s not easy to find one that is delicious, pretty AND easy to prepare. When you’re having a dinner party, the last thing you want to do is spend a lot of time on the appetizer (I prefer to spend the bulk of my time on dessert!).

Our dear friends Cindy and Ric recently moved nearby and invited us over to see their new house and have some cocktails. Cindy is a Class A party thrower and has been both my inspiration and a mentor in the fine art of “entertaining”—a word I honestly hate and never use, but sounds fancier than “having people over.” She taught me that planning ahead is key, that a signature cocktail instantly makes the night more special, and that flowers—and lots of them—make all the difference.

As we sat out in their backyard sipping cocktails in the glorious Los Angeles twilight, I thought the evening couldn’t get better. And then Ric brought out the appetizer. We collectively gasped in delight! In a rustic paella pan, whole cloves of roasted garlic shimmered in a pool of warm olive oil, fragrant and golden. Sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and goat cheese snuggled together with the garlic, creating a colorful tableau. Served with a freshly toasted baguette, it was a sight to behold. All conversation stopped as we stuffed our faces, not caring that olive oil was dripping down our chins and we were licking our fingers with reckless abandon. We were like kids devouring their very first birthday cake. And when we were done, we could have done it again.

Cindy and Ric graciously shared the recipe with me, and I’ve made that appetizer for everyone who has come to dinner since. Every guest has had the same reaction we did that night at Cindy and Ric’s: full-on swoon. I even considered creating a spreadsheet that showed the people I had made it for so I wouldn’t repeat it, although I don’t think anyone would have minded. When one of my best girlfriends, Erika, was coming to visit with her daughter, Viva, making this appetizer was a no-brainer.

Erika is not your typical dinner guest. Having Erika for dinner is like having Ina Garten, or a nicer, prettier, and better-smelling Tony Bourdain, over. She is a well-known food and travel writer and cookbook author who publishes her own glorious magazine, GFF (Gluten Free Forever – I recommend you get a subscription* immediately, even if you are not gluten-free. It’s fabulous!). The first time I met Erika, she offered to cook all the food for my wedding (I did not let her). Shortly after that, I was invited to her birthday party in which she made a croquembouche (Google it – your jaw will drop). This is just how she rolls. She blew my mind and continues to do so to this day. She is also down-to-earth and so lovely that I never feel I have to impress her, but it is also fun to cook for people who love food, so I do spend time thinking about what to make.

I don’t even remember what else I made that night, but the garlic and tomato appetizer was a home run. Even Viva loved it. When Erika asked if she could put the recipe in the holiday edition of GFF, I was thrilled! Thrilled that I could make something that dazzled her, thrilled that Cindy and Ric’s wonderful recipe will live on in print, and thrilled that so many others will be able to enjoy it too. I may not like the word “entertaining,” but feeding my friends delicious food is pretty dang entertaining.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

OLIVE OIL-POACHED TOMATO AND GARLIC APPETIZER
Adapted from the Holiday 2017 issue (no. 13) of GFF Magazine

2 cups good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 bulbs of garlic, cloves separated and peeled or 1 package of pre-peeled garlic (from the refrigerated section of the grocery store)
½ pint cherry tomatoes
1 8-oz. jar julienned sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
3 Tbsp. capers, drained
11 oz. goat cheese
½ tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
1 small handful of basil, leaves sliced into thin strips
Fresh ground pepper
1 French baguette, sliced and lightly toasted (if you are gluten-free, Erika recommends the brand Against the Grain Gourmet)

Preheat oven to 400º F. In a pan over very low heat, add the oil and garlic and cook gently until garlic is very soft, but still light in color (overcooking garlic will ruin the flavor of the garlic and the oil), 30-40 minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes longer, stirring occasionally so they don’t burn. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, bake the sliced baguette for 8-10 minutes until just toasted.

While the garlic oil/tomato mixture is still warm, pour it into a rimmed platter, add the sun-dried tomatoes, capers, red pepper (if using), and ground pepper to taste and give it a stir. Crumble the goat cheese on top, sprinkle the basil, and…ENTERTAIN!

 

*SPECIAL OFFER FOR SWOONERS: Use code Fall25 for 25% off the Holiday 2017 issue, or Fall17 for 35% off subscriptions, including shipping.

GFF Magazine is also available at Barnes & Noble, Whole Foods and many other places where magazines are sold.

 

Lolly Bragging

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Holidays, Sweets

Halloween is just two weeks away, so it’s time to start thinking about candy (as if we at The Swoon Society aren’t thinking about it all year long). When it comes to trick-or-treaters, are you an apple (shame!), popcorn ball (boo!), candy corn (eek!), loose change (argh!), or miniature variety pack (yay!) dispenser? My brother-in-law’s aunt used to give out whole candy bars on Halloween. She did not mess around.

If hordes of sugar-mad zombies find their way to your door each year, you may have to be more practical, but I live on a steep, intimidating hill in a neighborhood with few children, so I have the luxury of splurging on the 3-5 trick-or-treaters who ring my bell annually. This year, I got them these bewitching lollipops from Natural Candy Store.

Everything sold by Natural Candy Store is 100% natural—no scary ingredients like artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, or hydrogenated oils. In addition, their Halloween lollipops are allergy-friendly, vegan, and gluten-free, so I’ve got all the bases covered (except diabetes). Generously sized with flavors ranging from cherry, grape, and orange to cocoa and vanilla bean, these lollies will have trick-or-treaters bragging to their friends about their haul (I hope).

If you’re not prepared to go all in on individual treats, Natural Candy Store has a frightening array of Halloween sweets in bulk sizes, including Trick or Treat Mix, Organic Skull and Ghost Lollipops, Crispy Milk Chocolate Jack-O’-Lanterns,* Natural Gum Pops, Wholesome Organic Fruit Chews (uncanny facsimiles of Starburst) and, yes, even popcorn balls and candy corn. They also include free samples with every order (my favorite is the CleanCandy Watermelon Wheel).

Now that the candy has been taken care of, it’s time to turn my attention to pumpkin carving patterns and decorating, because Halloween is almost here and there’s no time for lollygagging.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Natural Candy Store

 

*Orders to hot weather regions may require special shipping.

 

The Spice Trade

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

Tomorrow is the first day of fall, which marks the official start of Pumpkin Spice Season. But before you head to Starbucks for a PSL, I have a PSA: there’s another seasonal spiced drink that just might make you lose your gourd. At this time of year, when everyone is preaching about pumpkin spice, I’m reaching for Bengal Spice.

As a rule, I’m a loose tea person, so I don’t pay much attention to commercial brands of tea packaged in individual bags, but my friend Stephanie made me sit up and drink years ago when she introduced me to Bengal Spice from Celestial Seasonings. Stephanie is the kind of friend who, when you stop by “for a second,” will invite you inside for a chat and begin loading up the kitchen table with all manner of gourmet goodies: French cheeses, Swiss chocolates, crusty breads, spiced nuts, and several different kinds of tea. On this particular occasion, she brewed a pot of Bengal Spice and served it with milk and honey. A caffeine-free take on traditional Indian chai, Bengal Spice contains familiar ingredients like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves, but when milk and honey are added, it tastes like butterscotch. Really. Top with sweet whipped cream and it’s almost like having hot butterbeer.

Unlike pumpkin spice, Bengal Spice is available year-round, but I like to reserve it for fall, when cooler temperatures (and nesting tendencies) make me long for warming spices. I always drink it with milk and honey, because it is this combination that creates the candied alchemy. I can brew it easily, economically, and frequently at home—no need to stand in line or sell the farm for a soothing cup of seasonal cheer. And since it’s caffeine-free, enjoying a mug before bedtime actually helps me fall asleep.

Here in Southern California, the forecast for the coming week shows rising temperatures, so while the masses greet the season with all things pumpkin spice, trade in your PSL for a BST and experience true Indian Summer.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Bengal Spice Tea

 

Celestial Seasonings teas are sold at most supermarkets. Bengal Spice can also be purchased from Amazon.

 

Seedlip – The Non-Alcoholic Cocktail You Will Be Happy to Drink

Author: Kirsti Kay, Cocktails, Entertaining, Food & Drink, Spirits

“Mateus, please!”

My deep appreciation of the cocktail goes way back. You might think to my early 20s, or even high school, but I became a connoisseur of spirits at the tender age of four.

Grandma Kay. It’s happy hour somewhere!

I spent the night with my grandparents often as a child. Our routine in the evening was to watch television in their den—mostly movies wildly inappropriate for a little girl, such as Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan or Logan’s Run. We’d settle in with our afghans, popcorn, and cocktails: bourbon and 7-Up for my grandparents and a wine cooler for me, which basically consisted of a glass of 7-Up with a healthy splash of wine. This was in the early ’70s, long before Bartles & Jaymes made wine coolers ubiquitous in the 1980s. I think, back in the day, it was acceptable to give kids a bit of wine before bed to make them sleepy. Or maybe it wasn’t, but “happy hour” was an everyday occurrence with my family and usually lasted until bedtime.

I was really into my wine coolers, and I knew what I liked. My grandma loved to tell the story where she tried to give me a different wine one time instead of my usual, which was a cheap rosé from Portugal called Mateus. I threw a fit until she relented and opened a bottle of my beloved Mateus. I liked the roundness of the bottle and the old-looking photo. Even at four I was picking wine based on the label.

Later, as a tween, when my parents drank Tom Collins, I got to drink the Collins mixer and pretended it was a real cocktail. You don’t see this drink much anymore, but, like Harvey Wallbangers and Rob Roys, it was popular in the ’70s. To make a Tom Collins, you just mixed gin with ice and Collins mix, which was a premade sour mixer sold next to the club soda and tonic water in the supermarket. It was easy and cheap and, when paired with a Captain and Tennille record, it kept the party swinging.

As an adult, one of my favorite rituals is having a martini with my dad. He makes a big production out of it with the fancy Waterford crystal glasses. We may not agree on what makes the best martini—he likes Beefeater gin and olives, I like Hendrick’s and a lemon twist—but we both agree that a gin martini is the only true martini. Vodka martinis are for suckers.

Like most people who enjoy a nice pre-dinner drink, I’ve embraced the craft cocktail revolution, greedily trying recipes involving St. Germain, Aperol, homemade syrups, and a myriad of bitters. And then I stumbled upon Seedlip.

Seedlip bills itself as “The World’s First Non-Alcoholic Spirit.” It has no calories, no sugar or sweetener, and no artificial flavors. It is copper pot distilled using herbs and aromatics. When mixed with tonic and a squeeze of lime or a grapefruit slice, it mimics the refreshing deliciousness of a gin and tonic.

There are two versions of Seedlip: Garden 108 and Spice 94. Garden 108 has an herbal profile with the essence of peas, hay, spearmint, rosemary, and thyme, while Spice 94 is more aromatic, with botanicals such as allspice, cardamom, oak, lemon and grapefruit conspiring together to dazzle your senses.

When I first read about Seedlip, I was swooning over the gorgeous bottles and the idea that I could have cocktails during the week that were alcohol-free. I also liked being able to provide an exciting aperitif for friends who didn’t drink alcohol. Unfortunately, it was only available in the U.K. (now it is readily available in the U.S.), but my dear brother-in-law and his girlfriend brought me back a bottle of Spice 94 from London. It was everything I hoped it would be. It had the juniper-y nip of gin commingling with many other mysterious and spicy notes.

I am often disappointed by gourmet food and drink that has the promise of exotic ingredients, only to taste them and find their magical flavors undetectable. Seedlip, however, really delivers on the flavor. Its spicy, herbal scent tickles the nose as much as it delights the taste buds. I am completely smitten. My husband, Aaron, is also a fan, and we went through our bottle lickety-split.

The only drawback is that Seedlip, with a $40 price tag per bottle, is more expensive than any fancy top shelf spirit. Still, this lovely elixir enchants me. I’ve yet to try the Garden 108, but I see a bottle in my future. I might even be wild and add some gin, or perhaps a splash of Mateus. I’ve got Wrath of Kahn on DVD and a soft afghan calling my name.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Seedlip Distilled Non-Alcoholic Spirits

 

Seedlip can be purchased in the United States from Food52 and a variety of online retailers.

 

Out for Dragon’s Blood

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Wellness

If you watch Game of Thrones, you already know what dragon’s fire does to enemy lines, but do you know what dragon’s blood does to facial lines? Croton lechleri, a flowering plant commonly known as “dragon’s blood,” produces a deep red sap that has both medicinal and cosmetic benefits. Its natural latex forms a protective barrier on the skin, acting as a liquid bandage to stop bleeding and speed the healing of wounds and other skin disorders. (When added to hair gel, it also helps smooth split ends while holding styles in place.)

In the short term, dragon’s blood can plump the skin, giving the appearance of smaller pores and smoother lines. Simply squeeze a few drops into the palm of one hand and rub with the fingers of the other hand until the sap turns white, then spread evenly onto the skin. It creates an almost imperceptible second skin that gives a refined, matte look. Dragon’s blood is also high in antioxidants and taspine, which promotes tissue regeneration and elasticity with regular use.

But the benefits of this red resin go more than skin deep. I initially bought dragon’s blood for the intriguing name and the fact that it really does look like blood, but I discovered that it’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for a variety of physical issues, both internal and external. I will not list them all here, because the good folks at The Raw Food World have done that for me (link below), but I’ve been known to swirl a few drops around in my mouth to encourage healthy gums. It always seems a little magical to ingest dragon’s blood, no matter how mundane the reason.

Now that I’ve spilled the beans about this fantastical beauty secret, you’ll be out for dragon’s blood, so tip the scales in your favor and enjoy skin that’s fit for a queen.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Dragon’s Blood

 

From now through the end of September, The Raw Food World is offering Dragon’s Blood at cost ($10.46, reg. $14.95). For the full list of September’s “At-Cost” Specials, click here. Enter the code “honeymoon” at checkout to get an additional 7% off your order.

 

Taking the Waters

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Cold Drinks, Food, Food & Drink, Fragrance, Savories, Sweets, Wellness

Here in Southern California, we’re on the tail end of yet another summer heat wave. It feels like we’ve been pummeled with them this year, barely having time to enjoy a week of “cooler” temps (90s instead of 100s) before the next one rolls in. This latest wave brought some dreaded humidity that made going outside feel like stepping into a wet sauna. Ugh. We’re only midway through the season, so to keep my cool and freshen up when there’s no time for taking a bath, I’ve been taking the waters.

I discovered the culinary delights of rose water and orange blossom water when I got to know my Persian co-workers many years ago. They explained that Middle Eastern cooks use these floral waters in cooking and baking the way that most Americans use vanilla. I quickly learned that the waters also make fragrant and refreshing toners and tonics. During the summer, my favorite cooling trick is to pour them into spray bottles and keep them in the fridge for sweetly-scented spritzing throughout the day.

For years, I could only find Indo-European brand rose and orange blossom waters at Whole Foods and the ethnic foods aisle of some chain grocery stores, but then a large Middle Eastern market opened a few miles from my house and introduced me to a whole new world of culinary waters. There were familiar ingredients, like dillweed, cumin seed, and licorice, alongside less common ones, such as borage, sweetbriar, and willow, but some of the names were unrecognizable to me. What the heck is hedysarum? And fumitary water sounds like a treatment you’d be given on the road to wellville.

I bought them all.

Since I’m more of a baker than a cook, the dillweed and cumin have languished on a shelf, but orange blossom continues to be a favorite scent, and a rose by any other name—whether Naab or Ghamsar Kashan—smells as sweet. A whiff of willow holds hints of violet and rose, while fumitary emits the unexpected essence of peppermint. On sweltering summer nights, nothing beats a mist of mint water on sheets, pillows, and overheated skin, especially under the cooling currents of a fan.

Many of the descriptions online recommend taking these waters as a tonic beverage with plain water and sugar added. According to one, chicory water can “refine the blood,” promoting skin and liver health. Another claims that fenugreek water helps lower blood sugar and strengthen hair. Willow is said to stimulate the appetite, while fumitary (sometimes called fumitory) is beneficial for treating eczema and psoriasis. Hedysarum, which has a flavor completely unfamiliar to my American palate, tastes slightly medicinal, with a sharp earthiness and a trace of fruit that is both strange and exotic … and, apparently, useful for whooping cough.

In addition to Indo-European, I have found culinary waters from Cortas, Al Wadi, and Sadaf, but the largest selection is produced by Golchin. Most of them are only $3-5 a bottle, so stock up this summer and hydrate liberally, inside and out, because taking the waters is (almost) as therapeutic as a trip to the spa.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Culinary Waters

 

If you don’t live near a Middle Eastern market and can’t find these culinary waters at your local grocery store or gourmet food shop, many are available online from Persian Basket.