These Violet Delights

Author: Kirsten K., Food & Drink, Sweets

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

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

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

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


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Whole Foods Dark Chocolate Violet Marshmallows

 

 

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All That Jasmine

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

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

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

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

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


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Jasmine Sparkling Essence Water

 

 

Three Is a Magic Number

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

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

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


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Happy Swooniversary from

 

 

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

 

Good Earth Day

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

Recently, I mentioned Good Earth tea to a friend and received a blank stare in response. It suddenly occurred to me that she was born and raised in New York and might not have heard of The Good Earth, a chain of health food restaurants that was locally popular in the 1970s and ’80s. It played an important role in my young life, but it’s funny how we can take for granted that others share many of our formative experiences, only to be brought up short when we’re reminded that the world is vast and varied.

When my sisters and I were growing up, my mother went on a health kick and overhauled our kitchen: white bread was swapped out for whole wheat, butter was replaced with margarine (believed at the time to be a healthy substitute), and sodas, potato chips, candy, cookies, and ice cream were suddenly verboten. The most decadent thing in our pantry was a box of plain graham crackers, so when my mother took me to The Good Earth for the first time and I realized I was permitted to get one of their large chocolate chip cookies (because it was “healthy”), it instantly became my favorite restaurant.

Aside from the tempting baked goods displayed in a glass case by the register, The Good Earth had a full menu of satisfying selections, my favorites being The Earth Burger (a vegetarian patty made from “nuts, grains, adzuki beans, mushrooms, and exotic spices from around the world”), the Garden Patch Vegetable Salad, and Eggs Lorraine with a side of Ten Grain Pancakes and homemade syrup. But whatever I ordered, it was always accompanied by endless cups of their famous Privately Blended Spice Tea.

Naturally sweet and spicy, the restaurant brewed its tea strong and dark. When I had a view of the servers station, I would see coffee pots filled with fresh water and stuffed with seven or more bags of tea, then left to sit until the liquid had turned a deep brown. By the time I left the restaurant, I’d have had at least four cups of it.

Good Earth tea was so delicious that I would often meet friends at the restaurant for nothing more than tea and a chat. On Saturday nights during high school, when other (i.e. “normal”) kids were at a dance, seeing a movie, or trying to sneak into a club, my friends and I would go to The Good Earth to discuss books and philosophy over cups of spiced tea and goblets of soft-serve Tofutti.

I didn’t realize until I was an adult that most Good Earth restaurants were located in California and might be unfamiliar to those from out of state. There were several locations in the San Fernando Valley, where Kirsti and I grew up and currently reside, but they began disappearing one by one in the 1990s, until the last holdout in Studio City finally closed its doors in 2014. (Apparently, there are two restaurants still open in Minnesota, but that’s quite a distance to travel for a taste of nostalgia.)

Fortunately, Good Earth tea lives on! Their online store sells a variety of black, green, white, and herbal teas, but it’s the classic Sweet & Spicy blend that still makes me swoon. I always give it a good, long steep to bring out its natural sweetness.

Today, as we focus on the good of the Earth, I’ll be brewing up this nostalgic blend and having a Good Earth Day.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Good Earth Sweet & Spicy Tea

 

Good Earth tea has gone through a number of different package designs over the years. The latest version features a white background with vibrant splashes of color, but I’m partial to the previous purple packaging that appears in these pictures.

 

Bon Bon Bon Appétit

Author: Kirsten K., Food & Drink, Sweets

Kirsti likes to say, “Do one thing, do it well.” Whether a Rolex watch or a single malt Scotch, focusing on one product in order to achieve mastery elevates it to the level of fine art. It’s a philosophy that she and I share, particularly when it comes to food (refer to her post about Killer Shrimp for a classic example). Recently, we heard about the proprietors of a chocolate shop in Detroit, MI, that don’t just do one thing well, they do it Bon Bon Bon.

Bon is a French word meaning “good.” Bonbons are petite confections, typically covered in chocolate, that are “good-good.” Bon Bon Bons, on the other hand, are rectangular receptacles of tempered chocolate filled with an exhilarating array of flavors and textures that can best be described as “swoon-worthy.” Conceived and constructed by a talented team known as the Babes Babes Babes, these unique sweets are master pieces.

Kirsti and I were seduced into ordering the Spring Collection, featuring floral flavors like Classic Jasmine and Lavender Honey strewn among more cutting-edge combos like Mesquite Smoke and Shaded Jade. It arrived in spare, industrial-style packaging that belied the lush ingredients within, but cleverly protected each bonbon in its own tiny box.

The company’s website states that “each Bon Bon Bon packs two polite bites (or, one less-than-polite bite).” Given that the chocolates were delivered to me and it was my responsibility to carefully (and fairly) cut each straight down the middle, saving one half for Kirsti, I believe I deserve props for remaining “polite.” But a polite bite still packs a punch, with enough layers of sensation to leave a lingering impression.

If this shop was located down the street from me, I’d be in trouble, but there’s also a troubling amount of packaging required when shipping chocolate to warm climates like ours in Southern California. A person only has so much use for cold packs and sheets of insulated mylar bubble wrap, so Kirsti and I may have to limit our indulgence to the winter months. But for those around the country who are still mired in rain and snow, now is a great time to jump on the Bon Bon Bon wagon and treat yourself to some of these singular sweets. Bon appétit!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Bon Bon Bons

 

 

Bring Out the Best Skin Ever

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Fragrance, Wellness

Even in her 80s, my Auntie Jo had beautiful skin, which I attributed, in part, to her lifelong use of cold cream. In her day, it was common to cleanse the face of dirt and makeup by slathering on a thick, oil-based cream, then wiping it away with a warm, wet washcloth. Her preferred brand was Albolene, and I used to love dipping my fingers in the large jar as a kid while she went through her evening ablutions.

Having seen her perform the ritual numerous times, I was accustomed to the practice of using oils to “wash” the skin, which is why I was eager to try the Best Skin Ever line of cleansing oil blends from Living Libations.

According to the company’s website, “Washing the face with pure pressed plant oils is an ancient Ayurvedic and gracious gypsy method to cleanse and gently exfoliate the skin.” If you’re like me, you just tried to say “gracious gypsy” five times fast, then you added several of these exotic elixirs to your cart.

Featuring a heady medley of natural essences in a base of jojoba and virgin coconut oils, these potent potions cleanse and soften* skin at the same time while leaving behind an intoxicating fragrance. My favorites are Lavish Abundance (who could resist that name?), Neroli (like an orange tree in full bloom), and Tropical (island flowers with Hawaiian sandalwood).

Unlike the cold creams of old, which contained mineral oil and petrolatum (dead organisms), Best Skin Ever oils are all plant-based and bursting with life. It only takes a minute or two of massaging them into the skin before they are absorbed completely, leaving no oily residue. The only thing that lingers is the lush aroma.

I am a fairly frugal person, but I lost all sense (and cents) over these scents. While I used to wash-and-go, now I tarry over my toilette, so if you haven’t taken the time recently to stop and smell the roses (and the jasmine and the gardenia and the orange blossoms…), bring out the Best Skin Ever and let it bring out the best in you.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Living Libations Best Skin Ever

 

Instructions for how to use these oils for cleansing can be found below the description of each blend on the Living Libations website.

As of this writing, The Raw Food World is having a “Below Cost” sale on Best Skin Ever blends for a limited time, so get yours at an incredible discount while supplies last. These are the 50 ml sizes, which are bigger than they look in pictures and come in attractive frosted glass bottles with wooden caps and a convenient plastic pump. You can use the coupon code “honeymoon” at checkout for an additional 7% off your order. Stock up!

 

*I used to be a product trainer for a skin and hair care company, and it still makes me a little crazy when people refer to oil as a moisturizer. Oil is an emollient, which makes skin soft and supple, but can’t moisturize, because it contains no moisture (i.e. water). Oil can act as a protective barrier to hold in existing moisture, or be blended with water and an emulsifier to create a moisture cream, but it will not moisturize skin on its own. For a moisturizing effect, apply oils immediately after taking a shower, while the skin is still damp, or hold a wet washcloth to your face for a few minutes before massaging in the oil.

 

Drear Diary

Author: Kirsten K., Books, History, Literature

On March 9, 1992, a former scrap metal dealer rang up a London literary agent and asked the question that would upend one of the most enduring mysteries of the previous century: “I’ve got Jack the Ripper’s diary. Would you be interested in seeing it?” The story that followed was almost as convoluted and contentious as the search for Jack the Ripper itself, involving forensic and psychological analyses, confessions and retractions, infighting among “Ripperologists,” the intersection of two sensational murder cases, and the curious appearance of a pocket watch that may have belonged to the killer.*

At the time, I was getting my degree in psychology and had a particular interest in the minds and motivations of serial killers (not an especially swoon-worthy topic, unless by “swoon” you mean “pass out from fright”). I read about the diary in the newspaper shortly before its publication in 1993 and got a copy for my birthday later that year. Until then, I’d only had a passing interest in the mystery of Jack the Ripper, but after reading the diary I became well and truly hooked.

Over the years, I’ve read numerous books on the subject and spent hours on forums like Casebook: Jack the Ripper going over various theories about the killer’s identity, but the majority of posters seemed to dismiss the diary as an elaborate hoax. While it is one of the most fascinating documents I’ve ever read, the diary has been dogged from the beginning by persistent questions about its authenticity and the dubious manner in which it was discovered. When the man who made that extraordinary phone call eventually confessed to forging the diary, the skeptics were smug, but even though few believed he had the necessary skills to pull it off and he later retracted his confession (then changed his story again), the damage was done. Most experts agreed that the diary was likely a forgery, and they returned to their furious speculations about the identity of Jack the Ripper.

But I’d never been able to shake my conviction that the alleged author of the diary, Liverpool cotton merchant James Maybrick, was the real killer. For years, family and friends have had to put up with my repeated discussions and dissection of the diary, as well as the trial of Florence Maybrick, the young wife of James Maybrick who—in an ironic twist—was convicted of murdering her husband in 1889.

Despite the doubters, nobody has been able to prove that the diary was forged. Comparable hoaxes, such as the Hitler diaries, have been uncovered quickly, but as the years passed without a similar revelation about the Ripper diary, my belief in its legitimacy only strengthened. A forger would have had to be an expert in both the Jack the Ripper killings and the Maybrick murder trial, the psychology of a serial killer, the symptoms of arsenic addiction, and the composition and style of Victorian-era paper, ink, and writing. A person like that would surely have come forward at some point to take credit for this monumental feat, but no credible forger has stepped up or been exposed.

Then, this past summer, it was announced that a new book about the diary would be released in September proving that it was an authentic 19th-century document that had been traced directly to James Maybrick himself. I was unable to obtain one of the 500 limited edition copies of this book, but it claims to present two primary findings:

  1. In-depth forensic analysis of the diary dates it definitively to the late 1800s, rejecting the theory that it’s a modern forgery.
  2. Research has revealed that, during a 1992 renovation of Battlecrease House (home of James Maybrick at the time of the murders), the diary was discovered beneath the floorboards of Maybrick’s own bedroom by three workmen, one of whom knew the infamous caller.

Given that the diary contains details about the murders that could only have been known by the killer and police at the time, these revelations make the strongest case yet that James Maybrick and Jack the Ripper are one and the same.

True skeptics will remain unconvinced, because there is an entire industry that has sprung up around the Ripper riddle and people are invested in maintaining the mystery, but after stumping seekers for almost 130 years, I’m more confident than ever that this case is closed.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

The Diary of Jack the Ripper

 

The limited edition facsimile of the diary with updates from its owner, Robert Smith, is currently sold out, but you can email the publisher, Mango Books, and request to be informed if and when it is reprinted.

 

*The story of the watch is almost as intriguing as the diary itself. For a more thorough description of the discovery and analysis of the Maybrick watch, read Ripper Diary.

 

Na Nanaimo, Na Nanaimo, Hey Hey Hey, Good Bar

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

For the past two weeks, I have vicariously skated, skied, and slid across the ice and snow in PyeongChang from the comfort of my couch. Over the years, my Olympic training has given me the ability to get through a 5-hour telecast in 1-2 hours (I could medal in speed watching), and I like to reward myself for this feat with a sweet treat. In the spirit of the games, I decided to go for the gold and seek inspiration among the top medalists, but while the Norwegians may have set the bar, the Canadians have perfected it.

There is much debate about exactly when the Nanaimo bar made its debut (likely sometime in the early 1950s), but in the years since, this no-bake dessert has achieved cult status in Canada. Named for the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia, there are many variations on the recipe, but all involve three basic things: a brownie-like crumb base, creamy custard filling, and chocolate icing. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

I first heard of these bars from my boss, who makes them each Christmas. When she was a showgirl in the ’70s, one of her fellow dancers shared the handwritten recipe, which she labeled “Nanimo Bars,” and which my dyslexic boss calls Namino bars(!). Despite the confusion, I was able to find various recipes and information about Nanaimo bars online, but since I’ve only tasted my boss’s version, hers has qualified for this post.

In her recipe, vanilla pudding powder is used in place of the traditional custard powder, which can be more difficult to find,* but they can be used interchangeably. If I’m to be the judge, the custard is what sets these bars apart, but the combination of chewy base, creamy filling, and rich topping makes them a 1-2-3 sweep.

The XXIII Olympic Winter Games will come to an end this weekend, but you can whip up these bars in record time, so take a break from sofa spectating and go all “oot” to celebrate the world’s greatest athletes—and sweets!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Illustration by Melissa Elliott

NANAIMO BARS

Base:
1 cup butter
½ cup sugar
10 Tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
4 cups graham crackers, crumbled
2 cups coconut, chopped fine
1 cup chopped nuts

Place butter, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and eggs in a bowl that is set in boiling water (i.e. double boiler). Stir until mixture resembles custard. Blend in graham crackers, coconut, and nuts. Press evenly into a greased 8×8” or 9×9” pan.

Filling:
½ cup butter
6 Tbsp. milk
4 Tbsp. custard powder or vanilla pudding powder
4 cups sifted powdered sugar

In a small bowl, combine milk and custard (or vanilla pudding) powder until powder is dissolved. In a larger bowl, cream butter, milk/custard mixture, and powdered sugar. Spread filling on top of base and place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Icing:
8 baking squares of semi-sweet chocolate, OR
1¼ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. butter

In a medium sauce pan, melt chocolate and butter together over a low flame. Pour the warm mixture evenly over the filling and return bars to fridge. Once the icing has hardened, cut into squares. Makes 1-2 dozen, depending on size of squares.

 

*Custard powder can be found at World Market and many high-end markets and specialty foods stores.

Variation: replace semi-sweet chocolate chips with milk chocolate chips for the icing, as in the top right picture above.

 

Note: Kirsti went to see Bananarama in concert this week, and I couldn’t resist riffing on the chorus from one of their hits for the title of this post. 😊

 

Swoon Giver

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

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♪ ♫ Swoon giver, why do you beguile?
To make our readers smile some way.
You sigh maker, you breath taker,
Wherever you show up this Valentine’s Day.

Two bloggers, off to write a post
To plug the site we host jointly.
We’re after the same worthy end:
To start a lovely trend
With stuff we recommend
For follower and friend,
Swoon giver and we. ♩ ♬
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 Happy Valentine’s Day, Swoonhearts! 

 

 

More Powder to You

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Wellness

Readers of this blog know that I like to use an unorthodox hair wash in place of shampoo. As someone who’s also used henna to dye my hair and clay masks to deep-cleanse my scalp, I’m comfortable playing with paste and mud when it comes to my hair care regimen, which is why I pounced on this trio of plant powders from Khadi Natural.

Amla, reetha, and skikakai have a long history of use in traditional Indian medicine. When the fruits of these plants are dried, ground into powder, and mixed with water to make a paste, they provide numerous benefits for the hair and scalp.

Amla, which comes from the Indian gooseberry fruit, is high in vitamin C, a key nutrient in slowing the effects of aging. It is believed that using amla paste and oil on the hair and scalp can prevent hair loss and premature graying. When used in conjunction with henna, amla can improve dye uptake and intensify hair color.

The soapnut tree, known as reetha in Hindi, produces a fruit that contains saponins: natural surfactants that gently remove dirt and oil. (Soapnuts make a surprisingly effective organic laundry detergent that is quite capable at cleaning without harsh chemicals.)

The pod-like fruit of shikakai can also cleanse the hair, but is primarily touted for its conditioning and detangling effects. It is said to strengthen hair from the roots and promote hair growth.

I have been experimenting with this trio and found that each plant works well for different purposes. Unlike my sweet-smelling hair wash, these powders are “earthy,” to say the least. The upside is that there is no lingering odor once they’ve been washed out. I applied each of them in the same way by mixing equal parts powder and aloe vera gel in a small bowl before working the paste into wet hair. (I discovered that using aloe gel in place of water gives the paste some slip, which makes it easier to massage into the hair and scalp.) For my medium-thick, long hair, 1-2 tablespoons of powder with an equal amount of aloe gel was sufficient for each application.

Reetha worked best as a cleanser. It actually foamed up a bit, like soap, and removed all traces of oil and dirt. This is something I might use once a week or every two weeks to remove buildup and clarify the scalp.

The amla paste did not work for me as a shampoo, leaving some oil behind (and necessitating a follow-up wash), but I’ve found that it makes a great dry shampoo. With its neutral tan color, it blends well with my brownish-blonde hair,* and just ½ teaspoon of the dry powder massaged through the scalp absorbs oil and livens locks on days when there’s no time to wash.

Another way to receive the benefits of amla is to mix 2 teaspoons of powder with 8 oz. of hot water, steep until the liquid cools, strain through a coffee filter or cheesecloth, and pour into a dropper bottle. Apply the liquid to the scalp a couple of times a week, massage in, and let dry. (There’s no need to wash it out—simply brush hair when dry.)

The real star of this lineup, in my opinion, is shikakai. It worked as both an effective hair wash and a stellar conditioner, leaving my hair feeling softer and more manageable than I’ve EVER felt it. I noticed the difference from the moment I rinsed it out in the shower and continued to feel it when my hair was dry. I have no idea what chemical constituents in the fruit are responsible for this effect, but it’s remarkable. Follow the directions for steeping above (replacing amla with shikakai) and strain into a spray bottle for spritzing on dry hair between washes to boost shine and manageability.

As with my Terressentials hair wash, combing out wet hair after washing with these powders is quick, easy, and painless—no conditioner required.

For taming all types of tresses, these plants are a natural, so if you’re searching for hair care solutions that have stood the test of time, more powder to you!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Amla, Reetha, and Shikakai Hair Powders

 

As of this writing, the Khadi Hair Care Combo is no longer available from Amazon, but the company sells individual tins of amla, reetha, and shikakai hair powders on their website. Alternatively, a Google or Amazon search (e.g. “organic amla hair powder”) will turn up numerous retailers and purchasing options.

 

*For darker hair colors, add unsweetened cocoa powder until the desired shade is achieved.