Kom Down

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

búcha Verbena Rose KombuchaWhen my favorite flavor of Wonder Drink was out of stock recently, I decided to experiment with something new. Among the sea of kombucha choices—featuring typical additions of ginger, fruit, or greens—one blend stood out: Verbena Rose from búcha® Live Kombucha. With a floral essence and no SCOBY in sight, I should have snapped it up immediately, but I hesitated over…the name?

Readers of this blog know that Kirsti and I share a passion for anything rose-flavored, but we also share an aversion to certain words and quirks of language. Setting aside the issue of proper names with lowercase letters for the moment, I bristle at the practice of dropping the first part of a word to create a shortened slang term (i.e. ’sode for episode or ’verse for universe—sorry, Browncoats!), but even though this drink is a “kom” down*, I elected to calm down and buy it.

With just a hint of sweet rose balanced by the citrus notes of lemon verbena, this flavor is a winning combo. The fermented black tea contains live kombucha culture (think probiotics), and all of the ingredients, including Damask rose petals and blackcurrant color, are certified organic. It also has a softer, less acetic bite than many other brands of kombucha. Not to get too flowery, but this floral sparkling tea is, to quote the bottle’s own label, “Enchanting.”

A Verbena Rose by any other name would taste as sweet, but I’ve been bewitched by búcha® and declare this libation to be ’licious.

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búcha® Live Kombucha Verbena Rose

 

Use the company’s store finder to locate a búcha® retailer near you.

 

*To read a brief history of búcha®, including a connection to the actual city of—yes—Bucha, click here.

 

Aptitude Adjustment

Author: Kirsten K., Nostalgia, Self-Improvement
First Day of School

The first of many first days of school.

When I was growing up, the school year always started the day after Labor Day, but I know several people (including my sister, a teacher) who have already resumed classes this month. Whether you are a teenager returning to school, the parent of a student, or an adult pursuing a higher education, you may be familiar with aptitude testing. (If the mention of school and testing just took you from swoon to yawn, sit up and pay attention! You might learn something. 😉)

Unlike academic exams, which often make people feel anxious and frustrated, aptitude testing can actually be fun. I remember taking aptitude tests in elementary school and thinking that they were a great way to get out of class. Comprised primarily of multiple choice questions, they took no more than an hour or so to complete. Afterwards, students would add up their answers from the various columns to learn their particular set of skills and which profession(s) they were most suited for…but the playground called (Red Rover was about to send Kirsti right over) and my own results were promptly ignored.

Graduation Day

With a degree, but without a clue.

In college, my major was undeclared until the last possible moment, when I was required to choose one by the university (I’m terrible at making decisions!). Unsure of what I wanted to do, I opted for a subject that could be generally applied and focused solely on obtaining my degree. Without any specific direction for my future, I simply wanted to finish school and get out into the “real” world, but after years of struggling to find my niche, a friend suggested I speak to her neighbor, who’d had a positive experience with aptitude testing through the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation.

As an employee of General Electric in the 1920s, Johnson O’Connor sought to increase workers’ efficiency and satisfaction by placing them in positions best suited to their natural abilities. The program he developed was so popular that employees asked to have their children tested, which led to the creation of a Human Engineering Laboratory that officially became the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation in 1939. Today, the Foundation has testing centers in major cities throughout the United States.

JOCRF Logo

I made an appointment for two days of testing at the Los Angeles center, where the atmosphere was casual and welcoming. After a brief interview, I was led through a series of tests, beginning with an assessment of my dominant hand, arm, leg, and eye (apparently, I’d have made a good baseball player), and proceeding through evaluations of memory (my highest aptitude), color vision, motor skills, auditory discrimination, clerical speed, and even innate hand strength (which, I was told, mysteriously correlates with certain professions that don’t require hand strength). At the end of the second day of testing, I was given my results.

Inventory of Aptitudes and Knowledge 2

If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought the administrator was psychic. He began by saying, “You love to walk into chaos, because you immediately begin to sort things and attempt to create order.” Bingo! Then he noted, “You probably play a musical instrument well, but you have trouble following along with the sheet music, so you learn a song and then play it from memory.” Cue the Twilight Zone theme.

Inventory of Aptitudes and Knowledge 1While aptitude testing does not equate to career counseling, there are specific kinds of work suggested by your pattern of aptitudes. It turns out that the first one listed under my summary of test results was the college major I’d so “randomly” and belatedly chosen. Also of interest was the fact that I tested below average on spatial ability. My father was an aeronautical engineer and I’d briefly considered pursuing the same career, but my aptitudes revealed that I was unsuited to that profession. How many children thinking of following in a parent’s footsteps would reconsider after having their aptitudes assessed?

Unlike grades in school, there’s no judgment associated with aptitudes (in terms of one being better than another). Someone with a low IQ or who struggles academically can still have aptitudes that make him or her well-suited for certain vocations. Aptitudes are also stable over time. A person who is tested at 15 will have the same results if tested again at 65, which means that early testing is recommended. Had I been assessed before going to college, I would have structured my education differently and probably had a greater sense of satisfaction and purpose.

Wordbook 1But it’s never too late! My cousin went back to college in her 50s and got her Master’s Degree with honors. One of the stories in the Foundation’s newsletter that convinced me to get tested as an adult involved a successful surgeon who decided to take the tests along with his teenaged son. He discovered he had an aptitude for music and began to take piano lessons in his free time, providing him with creative fulfillment outside of work. Plus, the one ability tested that CAN be improved upon is vocabulary, which allows people of any age to have greater success in expressing their aptitudes.

If you are about to embark on a new phase of your education, are having trouble choosing a direction for your life and work, or want to change professions, but aren’t sure where to focus your energies, aptitude testing might be right for you. The investment of time and money is minimal when compared to the value of understanding and applying your natural abilities. At the very least, consider an “aptitude adjustment” by building your vocabulary using the Foundation’s list of resources, because with the right aptitude, you can go all the way.

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Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation

 

Living on Liège

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

Liège Waffles 1For the past week I’ve been rooting for Team U.S.A. while binge-watching the Olympics, but for most of the summer I’ve been supporting Team Belgium by binge-eating Liège waffles. Liège (lee-ejh) is a city in eastern Belgium that’s considered the birthplace of a dense, sweet waffle made with brioche-based dough and pearl sugar. It has a slightly chewy texture punctuated by crunchy bits of sugar on the inside that caramelize into a crispy coating on the outside.

My friend Mika is a pastry chef who turned me on to Liège waffles when she developed a mini obsession with this “technique Belgique” before moving to France last year, leaving the less talented bakers among us to resort to pre-made versions. While nothing compares to those gaufres in Liège that are hot from a food truck, I’ve come across some goodies in lieu that are bought from a freezer. Julian’s Recipe Sweet Belgian Style Waffles are individually-wrapped, ready-to-eat breakfast treats that can be found among the frozen items at many natural foods markets.

Liège Waffles 2When the cool weather of fall arrives, I’ll dust off my waffle iron and start making hot, hearty breakfast fare from scratch, but during the infernal heat of summer, I barely have enough energy to use the toaster. Fortunately, Julian’s Recipe waffles can be eaten right from the package—no cooking or syrup required. Those who like their waffles hot and crisp can toast them for a few minutes and enjoy a taste of European street food without setting foot on a plane.

I used to work with a Belgian lady who once brought me some pre-packaged pastries from Brussels when she returned from visiting her family. Among them was a Liège waffle that looked and tasted remarkably similar to those from Julian’s Recipe, which come in flavors like Cinnamon, Maple, Salted Caramel, and Vanilla. The satisfying crunch from the pearl sugar has me wolfing down these waffles the way athletes polish off protein bars (I’m carbo-loading for the marathon of Olympic coverage that still lies ahead).

With the world making an appearance in my living room this summer for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, I’m enjoying a staycation in front of the TV. The only Grand Tour I’m planning is through the freezer aisle, so as the athletes take their chances in Rio, I’ll be playing it safe at home while living on Liège.

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Julian’s Recipe Sweet Belgian Style Waffles

 

Julian’s Recipe waffles can be found at Whole Foods and Sprouts markets or purchased online from the Julian’s Recipe store and The Betty Mills Company.

 

Kiddie Pools and Cucumber Cocktails

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

Cucumber Cocktai 1I live in Woodland Hills, California—a suburb in the west San Fernando Valley that is known for being the hottest neighborhood in Los Angeles. I like it here, but in the summer it’s hot as Hades with a side of flame-broiled misery. When Santa Monica is a cool 89 degrees, we are 104. Last summer I remember having lunch with a friend, and the temperature in my car said 118 degrees. I laughed because it was funny/not funny. I’m honestly surprised I haven’t melted. All the candles on my deck did!

This year, my husband Aaron had enough and declared we were getting a kiddie pool. I was dubious, but—lo and behold!—a week later Amazon delivered a crazy-looking, 8-foot-wide, inflatable pool with a pump and a cover. And a skimmer! When one has a kiddie pool, one must not forget the skimmer! I giggled at Aaron’s fervor, but was secretly wondering how soon he could get this thing set up. When we finally tried it out, I’ll be damned if our little pool wasn’t the perfect antidote to this hell-spawned heat. We even got a doggie raft for our pug, Owen. This IS L.A., after all.

The only question was, what does one drink in a kiddie pool in the middle of a blistering Saturday afternoon?

Cucumber Cocktail 2The answer, friends, is a Cucumber Vodka Tonic.

When I read that Prairie made organic cucumber vodka, I immediately went out and procured this spirit. I’m normally a gin drinker, but I love cucumber water, cucumber seltzer—even cucumber perfume—so I was in.

I couldn’t love this cocktail more. It’s refreshing and delicious and the perfect drink for an afternoon in the kiddie pool. It’s also handy when you trick your friends into coming over for dinner and they don’t realize how ungodly hot it is here. I just put one of these cooling little babies in their hands and they are like, “I freaking LOVE Woodland Hills!” The Cucumber Cocktail Diversion, as I call it, works every time. We only hope that next time they remember to bring their swimsuits.

“Marco.”

“Polo.”

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Cucumber Cocktail 3CUCUMBER VODKA TONIC
Serves 4

1 cup Prairie Cucumber Vodka*
I cup tonic water
¼ cup lime juice
2 Tbsp. agave syrup or superfine sugar
mint leaves
cucumber ribbons
Put all ingredients except mint leaves and cucumber ribbons in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until cold. Strain into glasses filled with ice. Garnish with mint leaves and cucumber ribbons.

Turn on music. Get in kiddie pool. Ahhhhhh…

 

*Use the Prairie Finder to locate a Prairie Organic Spirits retailer near you.

 

Mother of Dragon’s Blood

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Wellness

Blood of the Dragon Styling GelAs I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy laziness. I usually shower at night, because I can go to bed with wet hair and it will be dry in the morning with no effort on my part. As I’ve also discussed, my hair is prone to frizziness…and frizziness + laziness = craziness. Fortunately, I’ve found a Method for solving this equation.

I could write individual posts for most of the items in the Morrocco Method line of hair care products (and I just might), but their Blood of the Dragon Styling Gel has been a workhorse for me this summer and deserves its moment in the sun. My hair dries quickly in the arid heat of Southern California, so I’ve been massaging a dollop of the gel into my wet hair and allowing it to dry naturally during the day. The Light/Medium hold of this non-greasy gel helps to define curls, smooth split ends, and bring out shine. While there’s nothing unusual about how it works—most hair gels can get the job done—there IS something unusual (and swoon-worthy) about the ingredients and the method by which it’s made.

Aloe Vera LeafOver the 50 years that Anthony Morrocco has been cutting and styling hair for celebrity clients, he’s learned that holistic care leads to beautiful hair. Dissatisfied with many so-called “natural” products on the market, he created his own pristine hair care line from pure plant botanicals and naturally-derived minerals. All MM products are synthetic-free, cruelty-free, gluten-free, sulfate-free, soy-free, Paleo, and raw. Blood of the Dragon Styling Gel is also wildcrafted and vegan (top that!). Made from a base of aloe vera and dragon’s blood powder, it has a neutral fragrance that won’t interfere with other scented products, washes out easily, and can be used with impunity, since it’s safe for you and the planet.

Targaryens and wild hair-ians agree: Blood of the Dragon is the mother of natural styling gels. So if you have a crazy mane like me, apply some Method to your madness and take a summer vacation from bad hair days.

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Morrocco Method Blood of the Dragon Styling Gel

 

A Taste of Your Own Medicine Flower

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

Violet Flavor ExtractBoth Kirsti and I have written about our love for floral flavorings and the disappointing search for a true violet culinary extract following our swoon-worthy taste of violet ice cream in the South of France. It can be difficult to find a natural violet extract, since the blossoms only produce a small amount of essential oils. For this reason, violet was one of the first perfume essences to be synthesized, and this extends to the kitchen, where artificial violet extracts are the norm. While they might smell and taste like violet, there’s usually a chemical undertone that tells you this flower was “grown” in a lab.

Violet CupcakeI have purchased a number of extracts that claim to be natural flavors or to taste just like violet, but they invariably turn out to be either analogs (i.e. synthetics) or made from orris root, a member of the iris family that is commonly used as a fixative in perfumes and is reputed to smell and taste like violet. While there is a violet-like quality to the fragrance, it is nothing that a true violetesse would mistake.

I’d almost given up the perennial search when I came across Medicine Flower, an “aromatic apothecary” that sells essential oils, massage and body care products, and genuine, 100% natural flavor extracts…including a violet that is “made from the material named on the label.” Wary, but excited, I purchased a small dropper bottle. When it arrived, I could detect the essence of violets before I’d even opened the package. Here it was at last: a natural, culinary extract that smelled and tasted like true violet.

Rose Flavor ExtractAccording to their website, Medicine Flower’s extracts have a flavor potency that is 30-70 times higher than other products on the market. I have no trouble believing this, because I’ve used my violet extract in chocolate, baked goods, hot drinks, ice cream, and anything else that might benefit from a floral fix for the past couple of years and there’s still some of the precious essence left in the original bottle that I purchased.

True to its name, Medicine Flower also makes jasmine and Bulgarian rose flavor extracts that are as swoon-inducing as the violet. Undiluted rose and jasmine absolutes can run in the hundreds of dollars per ounce, but these natural flavor extracts are only $22 for 15 ml (½ oz.) and can perfume your cooking and baking with just a drop or two, making them a phenomenal value.

Jasmine Flavor ExtractFloral extracts particularly enhance desserts. Add a couple of drops to the batter and/or frosting when making cakes and cupcakes, then garnish with fresh or candied blossoms. The rose is intense and intoxicating, like burying your face in a bouquet of velvety blooms. I like to put a single drop in a glass of lemonade or pink champagne and float a couple of petals on the surface. The jasmine is even more concentrated and has a fruitier aroma than most jasmine flowers I’ve encountered. Mix a drop into vanilla ice cream for a treat unlike any you’ve tasted.

These are only a small sampling of the 65 culinary extracts that Medicine Flower produces, which include flavors as diverse as butterscotch, cucumber, dark chocolate, fig, wildflower honey, and cabernet sauvignon grape. With so many to choose from, write yourself a prescription for several bottles and get a taste of your own Medicine Flower.

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Medicine Flower Genuine Flavor Extracts

 

Medicine Flower flavor extracts can also be dabbed on wrists as a light perfume or added to massage oils, soaps, and other body care products (great for birthday or holiday gift giving). Mix and match to create your own culinary mixture or signature scent.

 

PMS – ProMeno Swoondrome

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Wellness

(For men who think that this post does not apply to them, read or scroll to the end.)

ProMeno Women's Wild Yam CreamYears ago, I worked at an alternative healthcare center where a client casually mentioned to me that she actually enjoyed her monthly cycle, seeing it as a time of cleansing and renewal. I just sat there with my mouth agape. I had never before heard those words from another woman, particularly the ones in my family, whose hormonal fluctuations could give Six Flags a run for its money.

I mentioned this to my neighbor, who has a wealth of knowledge about biochemistry and natural remedies, having worked with a multinational nutraceutical company for the past two decades. She told me about a medicinal herb called wild yam that can help balance the endocrine system and smooth out the rollercoaster.

While researching the subject on my own, I came across MoonMaid Botanicals, a company that produces creams and salves containing wild yam, which, according to their literature, is most effective when absorbed through the skin. I read some compelling explanations of how wild yam can assist the body to produce progesterone—a balancer of estrogen and testosterone—but their products seemed to be marketed primarily to menopausal and perimenopausal women. Knowing (hoping!) that this was still years away for me, I bookmarked the website and moved on.

ProAndro Men's Wild Yam Cream

“I yam what I yam.” Even big, strong men like Popeye can benefit from the hormone-balancing effects of wild yam.

About a year ago, I suddenly started breaking out like a teenager and experiencing mood swings. Having just read about how women of all ages should use a progesterone cream due to the prevalence of estrogen mimickers in our food and environment, I decided it was time to get some wild yam and get off this wild ride. I found the bookmark and placed an order with MoonMaid Botanicals for their ProMeno Women’s Wild Yam Cream.

The first thing I noticed was that it had a lovely aroma and silky texture. After using it regularly for a few weeks, both my skin and my emotions began to settle down. My next “moon cycle” was a breeze, and each subsequent month has gotten easier. Coincidence? Conceivably. Placebo effect? Possibly. But when two women at work complained of hot flashes and I recommended ProMeno, they bought it and said that their symptoms went away. Why didn’t I discover this stuff in my teens?!

RadiantRose Nite CreamWild yam even has benefits for men, who can experience andropause and are exposed to the same estrogen mimickers as women. To help balance testoterone, MoonMaid Botanicals offers a ProAndro Men’s Wild Yam Cream, which also contains herbs that support prostate health.

The company sells a number of other bath and skincare products, my favorite of which is the RadiantRose Nite Cream—a rich, fragrant moisturizer with a natural pink blush that will make your skin petal-soft—but they are small potatoes next to the wonders of wild yam. So whether you’re having hot flashes or you’re just a hot mess, get a case of ProMeno Swoondrome and chill out.

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ProMeno Women’s Wild Yam Cream
ProAndro Men’s Wild Yam Cream
RadiantRose Nite Cream

 

MoonMaid Botanicals’ all-natural creams do not contain synthetic preservatives, so I like to stay extra chill and protect my products by storing them in the refrigerator.

 

“Peach It, Sister!”

Author: Kirsten K., Entertaining, Food & Drink, Spirits, Wine

Moscato and PeachBefore she moved to France, my friend Mika and I would routinely put away a bottle of Villa Alena Moscato d’Asti with a baguette and a wedge of triple-crème brie. The light, sweet flavor and delicate effervescence of this Italian sparkling wine were the perfect accompaniment to a late afternoon snack. Now that summer is here, I’ve become a peach bum. Their Moscato & Peach sums up the season with heavenly hints of the succulent stone fruit.

Since I’ve seen men turn up their noses at what they perceive to be a girly drink (although, if real men eat quiche, they can also drink peach), round up your girl squad and serve a chilled bottle of this fruity frizzante at your next garden party, afternoon tea, or girl’s night in. When the sisters discover how it complements your freshly-baked gallette, they’ll have a religious experience.

If coming up with summertime entertaining ideas has you throwing your hands in the air, “Peach it, sister!” Offer your guests Villa Alena Moscato & Peach and you’ll be sure to amass a following.

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Villa Alena Moscato & Peach

 

Villa Alena Moscato d’Asti is sold at Trader Joe’s. Moscato & Peach is available for a limited time.

When a Costume Comes Along, You Must Whip It

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertainment, Music, Nostalgia, Pop Culture

DEVO 1I think most of us have a pivotal moment where we are living our young lives, oblivious to everything except Saturday morning cartoons and making sure your mom bought Hostess Fruit Pies for your school lunches. And then one day it happens. You realize there is something more out there, that there is a whole world filled with movies and music, art and culture (and, better yet, counter-culture). For me, music was the thing that woke me up, made me take notice and understand there was something great and magical outside of my Valley suburb. Music made me realize I was alive.

I remember the day it happened for me. The year was 1980. MTV had not launched yet. I was listening to KROQ (back when they really played alternative music) and “Whip It” by DEVO came on. I stopped what I was doing and stared at the radio, unable to move or breathe. I’d never heard music like this before. I felt crazy excitement—a buzzing inside my body that made me want to run through the streets and be wild. I felt free. I felt like I had found my tribe. I also felt a little afraid, as if, in this very moment, my life was changed forever and I could never go back to the way it was.

DEVO 2

The first time I actually saw what DEVO looked like, I was babysitting and they were on The Merv Griffin Show. I knew I liked their music, but when I saw them, my jaw dropped and I gasped. What was going on with the weird red hats (called Energy Domes) and the jerky dance moves? Why are they all wearing the same outfits? What are those noises they are creating that I’ve never heard before? And—holy crap!—is that guy playing a keyboard like a guitar? I was swirling with questions, but there was no Internet to ask. I was giddy with delight, but there was no Instagram to document my happiness. I was alone in a strange living room with all this excited emotion and I didn’t know a soul who would understand how wonderful and important this moment was to me.

DEVO 3

“Whip It” good in this DEVO costume from Atom Age Industries.

These days, I have a DEVO poster framed in my office and a DEVO action figure on my desk, and when I wear my DEVO t-shirt, I can’t help but feel happy. Recently, I found out that Atom Age Industries is making a fully licensed “Whip It Outfit and Energy Dome.” Not only can I be the uncontested darling of ANY Halloween soirée, I can look incredibly cool walking my dog and freaking out my neighbors. If they ask me what’s up with my outfit, I’ll just say, “We are DEVO. D-E-V-O.” That should put them right at ease. And the entire delicious ensemble comes in a super cool retro box that you are going to want to keep out in plain view for others to covet. At $40 for the whole shebang, I’m going to stock up. If there is ever a zombie apocalypse, I’m sure they will pass me over, because they will understand that I’m just way too awesome to gorge on, and they will probably want to come over and listen to some of my records. Atom Age Industries also has a RAD Booji Boy mask and many other trinkets and baubles to help you Devolutionize.

I still feel that buzzing inside whenever I hear a DEVO song. It is a good reminder that I am alive. If you need me, I’ll be the one in the red Energy Dome running wild through the streets.

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DEVO “Whip It” Costume