Out of Left Field

Author: Kirsten K., Correspondence, Self-Improvement, Wellness

With nearly nine months having passed since our last post, you might think today’s blog entry is coming out of left field—and you’d be right! If you’re among the 10-12% of the population that is left-handed, you probably already know that today is International Left Handers Day.

Given that neither Kirsti nor I is naturally left-handed, you may be wondering why The Swoon Society found this to be a Subject Worthy of Our Notice after such a long leave. The simple and slightly strange explanation is that I’ve spent the last couple of years learning to be a lefty!

I’ve always been fascinated by left-handers, since my oldest sister is a southpaw. I used to watch with wonder whenever she’d write with her left hand, holding it curled inward in the odd manner of many lefties who were forced in school to mimic right-handed penmanship. But any time I attempted to write with my own left hand, I was hopelessly awkward. Even when I only tried to imagine making the movements in my mind, it felt out of my reach.

A few years ago, I read an article about ways to protect the brain from age-related memory loss. Since I watched a close family member struggle with dementia, this has become an important issue for me. The article recommended engaging in novel pursuits and changing your routine in order to stimulate different areas of the brain. One of the suggestions was to brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand, which got my logical left brain to thinking…

I like to make New Year’s resolutions, so on January 1, 2020 I resolved to use my left hand for as many activities as possible that year, including eating, brushing my teeth and hair, using the computer trackpad, and writing. I had no idea what was shortly in store for the world, but when people started stockpiling supplies and stress-baking at the beginning of the pandemic, I knew I wasn’t the only one taking a left turn into unfamiliar territory.

I got the knack of using the trackpad right away and was surprised by how quickly I became comfortable with it. I now use it almost exclusively with my left hand. While my initial attempts to brush my hair and teeth were less successful (I still battle a bit), it wasn’t long before I was easily eating with a utensil held in my non-dominant hand.

What I really wanted to master was writing, so I began by doing the daily Sudoku with my left hand. There were only nine numbers to navigate, and I could print them slowly and singly in their separate boxes, but the extreme difficulty of this task gave me new sympathy for those who’ve had to relearn how to write due to accident or illness. It’s an unsettling feeling to intend for your hand to do something, only to have it refuse to comply.

I became exhausted in a short time with the effort and concentration required to make those numbers with my left hand, but I started to see steady progress as time passed. I could actually FEEL my brain working in a way I’d never been able to appreciate or understand as a child when I first learned many of the skills I now take for granted as an adult.

During this time, an out-of-state friend was having a milestone birthday and asked, in lieu of presents, for friends to write her letters. Since this friend happens to be a lefty, I decided to dive in and compose the correspondence with my left hand. I ended up churning out three full 8½”x11” pages of small print. Trial by letter! It was a hot mess, but it was legible and valued all the more for the effort involved.

While I haven’t yet mastered left-handed writing, I made an interesting discovery along the way: I can finally imagine what it feels like to write with my left hand. All of that practice created new connections in my brain, and now I’m able to both physically write and IMAGINE the act of writing with my left hand, which I hadn’t been able to do before. This is more evidence that trying something new really does awaken dormant areas of the brain.

I like to joke with my sister, Kirsti’s husband, and my nephew’s fiancé (all southpaws!) that I’m now an honorary lefty—which may seem like a left-handed compliment, because there’s more to being sinistral than merely the hand one uses to clutch a pen or fork. I’ve watched my sister wrestle with a world designed primarily for right-handers, and she can’t simply switch it off when things get difficult, so lefties like her may not see the comedy in my case of “clutchural” appropriation. However, my experience has provided some powerful, perennial lessons:

  • It’s never too late to change.
  • Adopting a new perspective helps you appreciate the differences in others.
  • Your brain—not just your body—needs regular exercise to keep it fit and strong.
  • With persistence, you can accomplish things you didn’t think possible—including things you couldn’t possibly think!

So Happy International Left Handers Day to my fellow (ahem) lefties, but if you plan to take brain health into your own hands, you’ll need to get “right” on it.

S.W.O.O.N. Stamp
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

International Left Handers Day
Brain Exercises to Improve Memory

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Easy as Thanksgiving Pie

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

See's Seasonal Pie TrufflesWith Christmas creep threatening to overtake October, there’s barely a breather between “Happy Halloween!” and “Happy Holidays!” for Thanksgiving to stretch its wings, but I prefer to enjoy the unfolding of each celebration in succession and look forward every year to this feast of family, friends, food, and gratitude. After we’ve given thanks for the many blessings bestowed on us over the past year, then passed the (plant-based) turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy, it’s time for dessert!

My beloved Aunt Berni was famous for her pie crusts and pastries and always brought a selection of homemade harvest treats for the table. I swooned over her pecan pie, but her apple pie, pumpkin pie, and dried apricot cobbler also made guests go gaga. Thanks to Auntie B, Thanksgiving pies became my favorite sweets of the season, so when chocolatiers began to mingle these annual offerings with my perennial passion, I wanted a slice of the action.

See’s Candies carries their Apple Pie Truffle all year long (because what could be more American?), but they serve it up at this time of year with a tempting trio of Cranberry Orange, Pumpkin Pie, and Pecan Pie truffles enrobed in dark, milk, and white chocolate, respectively. I like to line them up—along with a couple of Caramel Apple Scotchmallows and a cute, candy-turkey-topped truffle—on the company’s signature serving tray, which could easily double as Swoon Society merch with its familiar swirling S on each handle.

See's Signature Candy Tray

The tart-sweet flavor of the triangular Apple Pie truffle is so authentic that you could serve it up with a slice of cheddar. And though I’m not partial to pumpkin pie, I could definitely go for a second helping of the See’s version, which has enough pumpkin pie spice to take down a PSL. While their Pecan Pie can’t hold a candle to the ones my Aunt Berni baked, the Cranberry Orange is the perfect complement to the luscious loaf that my co-swooner Kirsti recently revealed over at Sugar Nerd.

Trader Joe's Thanksgiving Pie Chocolate TrufflesI am highly susceptible to clever marketing, so the wedge-shaped segments in the window of the Thanksgiving Pie Chocolate Truffles box from Trader Joe’s immediately caught my eye among their seasonal stock. While the chocolates enveloping Vanilla Crème and Cranberry Ginger Cinnamon fillings didn’t leave a strong impression of pie on the palate, the soft centers of the Caramel Apple Cinnamon and Salted Caramel Pecan truffles fit the bill to a T.

So if you’re looking for a hassle-free holiday host/ess gift—or you don’t bake, but want to contribute a confection to the fall festivities—bringing a box of these bonbons to the banquet is as easy as Thanksgiving pie.

S.W.O.O.N. Stamp
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

See’s Candies Seasonal Pie Truffles
Trader Joe’s Thanksgiving Pie Chocolate Truffles

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🥧 Happy Thanksgiving, Swooners! 🥧

Whacks Poetic

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

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They say I, Lizzie, took an axe
And gave my mother forty whacks,
Then when I saw what I had done,
I gave my father forty-one.

But in their research they’ve been lax,
So I am here to give the facts,
Because my folks were felled by blows
In numbers less extreme than those.
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.Lizzie Borden Pumpkin Carving
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And I’m not guilty by a mile,
Acquitted as I was at trial,
‘Cause none could prove I was to blame,
Despite the way I rose to fame.

But if you’d lived with Mum and Dad
You might decide I’m not that bad,
So I won’t be a hypocrite—
I think that they both axed for it!
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🎃 Happy Halloween, Swooners! 🪓

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“Jack-o’-Lizzie” was carved using tools from Pumpkin Masters.

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Cruel Beans

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

Groundwork Organic Bitches Brew CoffeeWe’ve returned from hiatus to interrupt this season already in progress with Breaking Brews! Since surrendering to the inevitable and becoming a constituent of coffee culture, I have been trying an endless variety of brands and blends. This month, inspired by the season, I opted for the Bitches Brew from Groundwork Coffee Co.

It has been well-established that I am NOT a morning person, so bagging this bitchy blend was a no-brainer. Organic and fair trade with a robust, yet smooth, flavor, this bad-tempered brew is actually a charmer. Invoking notes of dark chocolate and caramel, it has cast a spell over my morning ritual.

Recently, I’ve been trying to bring back the phrase “Cool beans!” While it’s been difficult to convince my legume-loathing friends (“Why you gotta bring beans into it?”) that this extended family encompasses both coffee and cacao, these “cruel beans” from Groundwork might just weave a little black magic with their deliciously dark roast.

While I am late to the game, Groundwork is not. Established in 1990 right here in Southern California, this small batch roaster has clearly mastered the art of Bitch-craft, so conjure up a cup of this wicked good coffee and you’ll spend the day flying high.

S.W.O.O.N. Stamp
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Bitches Brew

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For more festive fun, try their Black Magic espresso or spooky Supernatural blend with hints of candy corn and fruit punch.

Heart of Glass

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

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♪ ♫ Ornament the blog with a touch of class:
A picture…of a heart of glass.
Circle of gold beads ‘round a profile;
Classical bust, hint of a smile.

Two / Fourteen —
Will you spend it reading through our posts online?
‘Cause we’re choosing you to be our Valentine. 🏹
If we are amusing you, it’s just too good,
You swooning like you do…
♩♬

..

❤️ Happy Valentine’s Day, Swooners! ❤️

 

Lyrics adapted from Heart of Glass by Blondie.

My Fare Lady

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Food & Drink, History, Literature, Nostalgia, Recipes

More than 25 years ago, I was browsing the book selection from Amazon—yes, 25 years and no, not that Amazon—and came across an intriguing entry: The Captain’s Lady Cookbook & Personal Journal, 1837-1917, Vol. II: The Love Story, which included the following description:

“This is an amazing look at the life of a well-to-do woman who combined her diary, recipes, shopping lists, thoughts and dreams into her personal journal. The charm is indescribable. Recipes and a love story.”

I added it by hand to my printed order form, along with a reproduction Regency dress pattern, a pair of cotton ladies stockings, a handful of faux tortoise hair pins, and a bottle of Devon Violet eau de toilette. For me, the original mail order Amazon was Amazon Drygoods: “Purveyor of Items for the 19th Century Impression.” Their seasonal 100-page catalogs, with tiny print filling every page, put J. Peterman to shame and took weeks to peruse thoroughly.

Having developed a passion for historical romance in high school, I was eager to learn more about the clothing and customs of the 1800s, and Amazon Drygoods was the place to do so, supplying books, materials, and reproduction items for history enthusiasts and reenactors.

The Captain’s Lady Cookbook & Personal Journal was a real find—literally. Editor Barbara Dalia Jasmin found it at a tag sale in the early 1960s and paid 25 cents for its 300+ ultra-thin pages handwritten in copperplate script by the young wife of a Massachusetts ship’s captain in the mid-19th century. Although the entire journal comprises the period from 1837-1917, Ms. Jasmin chose to publish “The Love Story” first, which begins with the diarist’s marriage to her beloved captain on March 18, 1857 and covers the first 17 years of their lives together. Of his imminent departure on the clipper ship The Golden Fleece two months after their wedding, she writes, “I would choose to wait for him rather than for any other man in the entire world.”

Among traditional New England-style recipes such as Baked Indian Pudding and Washington Pie Cake are directions for making washing fluids, cough syrup, a digestive aid, and a dressing for the hair; lists of shopping items needed, wedding gifts received, and shipping cargo inventoried; “humour,” quotes, and poems (some by the author herself); mention of notable events (the end of the Civil War, the death of Abraham Lincoln); and stories of personal tragedy, like the loss of her brother at sea and the suicide by drowning of her cousin Jane. But there are also meditations on nature, family, faith, and, most of all, her undying love for her captain.

Instead of saying goodbye when he left for a voyage, the captain would tell his lady, “I think I shall sail across the Bay, but I shall be back in time for a piece of your special lemon pie.” She writes that, “When his return was imminent, I would make a lemon pie almost every day…Then, that special day arrived…My Captain would stride through the door…and say playfully, ‘Well, my Lady, isn’t that lemon pie ready yet?’” For their third anniversary, he gave her a gold pin and matching ring encrusted with precious stones. “Laid in succession, the first letter of each stone spells the word ‘Dearest.’ Diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire, and topaz.” O Captain! My Captain!

Reproduction of a page from the original manuscript of The Captain’s Lady Cookbook.

Amazon Drygoods noted that “Vol. I will be next in the series with a total of 9.” But—though Vol. II was first published in 1981 and the copyright page of the book states: “Vol I The Early Years 1837 – 1857 to be published October 9, 1983” and “Vol III The Children From the Sea 1863 in preparation”—I have never seen another book in the series published. These days, The Captain’s Lady Cookbook & Personal Journal can only be found from secondhand bookstores and select online vendors. I don’t know if something befell Ms. Jasmin or where the original journal resides today, but I do know that it’s a document of historical and human significance that should be preserved for posterity.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, you can indulge in this captivating cookbook and swoon-worthy story of true love by reading the digitized version online for free at the link below, but you’ll want your own copy to flip through whenever you need help navigating the rough seas of life and love. The Captain and his Lady demonstrate kindness to each other, respect for family, courage in adversity, celebration of life, and, above all else, a deep and abiding love—qualities we could use more of in THIS day and age. So open this present from the past to chart a course (and courses!) for your own happily ever after, and “fare” thee well.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™️ in this post:

The Captain’s Lady Cookbook & Personal Journal

 

Original copies of The Captain’s Lady Cookbook are available for purchase at Abe Books, Amazon.com, and eBay, along with other versions.

 

Bloggers We Have Read Online

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

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♪ ♫ Bloggers we have read online
sweetly swoon @ their domain,
And the comments in reply
Echo in their “faint” refrain:
♩ ♬

“Fo—o-o-o-o-o—o-o-o-o-o—o-o-o-or our readers,

👼🏼 Merry Christmas Day-o!”👼🏼

..

“Fo—o-o-o-o-o—o-o-o-o-o—o-o-o-or our readers,

👼🏼 Merry Christmas Day-ay-o!”👼🏼

 

Lyrics adapted from the Christmas carol Angels We Have Heard On High.
Picture adapted from a detail in the Sistine Madonna painting by Raphael Sanzio.

Fir Real

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Coffee, Food, Food & Drink, Fragrance, Holidays, Hot Drinks, Nostalgia, Spirits, Sweets, Tea

Loyal Swooners know that Kirsti and I are Fleur Crazy, but they might not be aware that I am also fir-crazy. Scent is the sense most closely connected to memory, and the smell of evergreen instantly conjures up happy childhood memories of decorating the Christmas tree and sitting beneath its boughs while tearing into presents with unbridled avarice. The scent always became sweeter as the tree dried out, and I used to gather the fallen needles into a muslin sachet, wanting to hold on to that adored aroma even after the last holiday decoration had been wrapped in tissue paper and put away.

When Starbucks introduced its erstwhile Juniper Latte a few years ago, it was a revelation to realize I could actually taste, as well as smell, this sylvan scent. Ever since, I’ve been searching for new ways to enjoy the flavors of the forest. I began this “noble” pursuit at Aftelier, the aromatic atelier of perfumer Mandy Aftel, which offers a range of Chef’s Essence® Flavor Drops for use in cooking and cocktails. Among them are Fir Needle, Juniper Berry, and Pine Needle. I was torn about which to try first when Kirsti went ahead and bought all three for me as a gift (BFF!*).

Fir Needle and Juniper Berry are both essential oils with strong scents in the bottle, but surprisingly smooth flavors when added to foods and beverages. I’ve used them to “spruce” up my morning coffee and to bring the bright, fresh essence of evergreen to snowy scoops of vanilla ice cream and seasonal sips of Christmas-y cocktails. An unexpected delight is the deep forest green of the thick Pine Needle Absolute, which has a wonderfully woodsy aroma and a sweet, smoky flavor that transports me to a mountaintop timberland every time I taste it. (For links to recipes, click on individual Chef’s Essence®s in Aftelier’s online shop).

If Christmas is your cup of tea, you’ll love the Douglas Fir Spring Tips Botanical Tea from Juniper Ridge. A recent fortuitous find, this company makes sustainably harvested and wildcrafted products using organic ingredients sourced from the slopes of Northern California. Their caffeine-free Douglas Fir tea allows you to literally drink in the quintessential scent of the season with its fresh, light flavor, while the authentic aroma of their Christmas Fir Room Spray will instantly relocate you to the redolent rows of a tree lot. In combination with their full line of bath, body, and home fragrance offerings, it’s like dropping a Tannen-bomb.

Finally, I don’t know if the Balsam & Cedar fragrance from Brayer Ridge Soap in Maine is “fir real” or not, but the company deserves honorable mention, because their Handcrafted Goat Milk Lotion is the most swoon-worthy moisturizing cream I’ve ever used. Last fall, on a visit to Eagle Island, I stumbled upon a tube of this luscious lotion with the sweet scent of my beloved balsam and cedar. As a natural product without artificial preservatives, it had an expiration date less than six months away, but I kept it in the fridge and managed to ration it all the way through summer. Lisa at Brayer Ridge only makes this lotion during the colder months of the year and, unfortunately, she’s already out for the season(!), but I’m consoling myself with her equally swoon-worthy Balsam & Cedar Whipped Body Butter and Goat Milk Soap, which bathe my bathroom in an alpine aroma.

If you’re looking for last-minute holiday gifts and know someone with a firry fetish, there’s still time to stockpile these fragrant and flavorful finds—or to branch out and try them for yourself. You might discover, as I have, that seasons change, but tree love lasts firever.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Aftelier Fir Needle, Juniper Berry, and Pine Needle Chef’s Essence® Flavor Drops
Juniper Ridge Douglas Fir Tea and Christmas Fir Room Spray
Brayer Ridge Soap Balsam & Cedar Bath and Body Products

 

*Best Firry Friend!

 

Ancient Hissstory

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

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This year’s pumpkin carving is no great big mystery;
You only need study your Greek ancient hissstory,
While dealing with COVID and lockdown neuroses
By flipping through Ovid in Metamorphoses.

It’s Snakes on a Mane as our Halloween feature,
Depicting a Hell-enic mythical creature
With slithering hair and a gaze that’s hypnotic,
Which causes her victims to go all sclerotic.

..

The ladys a viper — to tempt her is unwise.
She’ll turn you to stone if you stare into her eyes.
So don’t look too long, or she’s bound to seduce ya,
This profile pic of our “Gourd-gon” Medusa.

🎃 Happy Halloween, Ssswooners! 🐍

 

This pumpkin was carved using a classical-style Medusa silhouette and tools from Pumpkin Masters.

Cameo Appearance

Author: Kirsten K., Crafts, Holidays

Halloween is almost here, and with more time at home in recent months due to the pandemic, I’ve finally been able to work on some of the seasonal decorating ideas that have been floating around my head for years. To go by the number of ghoulish and ghostly displays that have suddenly materialized in my neighborhood, I’m not the only one.

In addition to exterior décor, I’ve brought the Halloween spirit(s) into my home, where a spine-tingling twist on tradition is making a cameo appearance this year. Among the carved Fun-Kins and framed Killhouettes that adorn my abode, I’ve created an arrangement of creepy cameos around a blushing bride who is head over heels (his head, her heels).

I’ve always loved classic forms of portraiture, like silhouettes and cameos, but I don’t wear much jewelry, so when I came across Cameo Jewelry Supply and swooned over their vast collection of affordable resin cameos, I had to consider alternate ways to use these wearable works of art. Naturally, their selection of Skull, Zombie, and Gothic cameos made me think of Halloween, and I knew at once that I wanted to showcase all of these spooky specimens for the season.

Using the shape of the cameos as my guide, I settled on a simple black frame with an oval opening encircling a school picture photo mat. Since a standard 40x30mm cameo would have been lost in the large oval, I chose a favorite Killhouette for dead center. It seemed appropriate for all of these disembodied heads to be looking upon Bridezilla, who has just “uncrowned” her Prince Charming. Leave it to cleaver!

This skull at bottom center glows in the dark.

As someone who lives in SoCal, I always keep plenty of QuakeHold! on hand, and I used a tiny bit to affix each cameo in its space so that I could mix, match, and remove them easily. Once I embellished Bridezilla with blood to match the red skull and crossbones, my creation was complete.

I also purchased some smaller skeleton and skull cameos, along with supplies to make eerie earrings and hair-raising hair pins for Halloween, but I don’t plan to stop there. With categories ranging from Alphabet to Zodiac, I have a feeling that these petite portraits will be making a cameo appearance in my life throughout the year.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Cameo Jewelry Supply

 

A wide variety of beautiful cameo settings—often referred to as “blanks”—for pins, pendants, bracelets, rings, and earrings is also available on Etsy.