Good Sport

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

One of Kirsti’s favorite scenes in the movie Throw Momma from the Train occurs when Billy Crystal’s character, Larry, declares that he’s going to kill the mother of Danny DeVito’s character, Owen. Before going after her, Larry asks Owen if he wants anything, and Owen replies, “You can get me a Chunky.” Pre-murder snack aside, this struck both of our funny bones, because who eats a Chunky?

I had personally never tasted the tubby trapezoid of Nestlé milk chocolate with peanuts and raisins, because 1) raisins, and 2) see #1. However, it became a running joke with Kirsti and me, and we started gifting each other a Chunky on birthdays and special occasions. I tried one and was surprised to find that I…liked it. I didn’t love it, and I never went out and bought one for myself, but the combination of creamy chocolate, crunchy nuts, and—yes—chewy* raisins tickled my taste buds.

Years later, I was introduced to Ritter Sport chocolate and swooned over their marzipan bar. It’s still one of my favorites, because the precise temper gives it a pleasing snap, and the chocolate-to-almond-paste ratio is just right. Designed by Alfred Ritter and his wife Clara to “fit into every sport jacket pocket without breaking,” each perfect, 16-square grid of Ritter Sport chocolate is both sweet and satisfying to those of us chocophiles with OCD tendencies.

I’ve sampled many of their flavors, from Yogurt and Cornflakes, to Espresso and Caramel Mousse, so—despite the “currant” situation—I decided to give their Milk Chocolate with Rum Raisins & Hazelnuts a try. It tasted like a sophisticated Chunky and I found it delicious, raisins (gasp!) and all. It has the familiar smooth milk chocolate and crunchy nuts, but there’s a reason they call this bar “The Tipsy Chocolate.” Before mixing in the raisins, they are soaked for hours in Jamaican rum. There is also rum in the chocolate, and the boozy flavor is surprisingly strong. I like to call it a “drunk Chunky.”

I don’t come across Ritter Sport’s Rum Raisins & Hazelnuts very often, which is probably a good thing (chunky isn’t just the name of a chocolate bar). The combination of rum and raisins seems to have become associated with the Christmas season, because I only see this bar at World Market and my local German deli during the holidays, so if you’re going shopping for international treats, be a good sport and ask me if I want anything, but don’t laugh when I say, “You can get me a Ritter.”


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Ritter Sport Milk Chocolate with Rum Raisins & Hazelnuts

 

*It seems that what I actually don’t like are “plump” raisins. If they are completely dried to the point that they’re dense and chewy, I can handle them.

Try to get a fresh package, because the marzipan is sometimes dry in older bars.

 

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The Pilgrim’s Bloggess

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

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“We did not fix
To show to all the World our Posts and Pics
On such a blog; we only thought to share
What makes us swoon, so others are aware,
Thereby to please our Readers; to be true,
We did it our own selves to say, ‘Thank you.’

..

🌽 Happy Thanksgiving Swooners! 🦃

 

 

Poem adapted from the prologue to The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.

 

Light-Headed

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

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♪ ♫ Well, I’m light-headed, check it and see.
I’ve got a hollow feeling inside of me.
Getting sleepy, as if I’m in a trance.
I’m light-headed, I’m light-headed. ♩ ♬

..

🎃 Happy Hollow-een Swooners! 🎃

 

 

This pumpkin was carved using tools and patterns from Pumpkin Masters. Lyrics adapted from Hot Blooded by Foreigner.

 

Ryden for a Fall

Author: Kirsten K., Modern Art, Pop Culture, The Arts

I was first introduced to the artwork of Mark Ryden 20 years ago this month when My Crazy Friend Marianne™ attended The Meat Show at the Mendenhall Gallery and brought me back a copy of the companion book. I was completely captivated by his Pop Surrealist paintings of doe-eyed children and animals amid a bizarre jumble of vintage toys, flea market finds, and slabs of raw meat with macabre images hidden among the marbling.

Wanting to share this fortuitous find with Kirsti, I took the book with me to a Halloween party at her house and left it behind for her to peruse. The next day, I learned that one of the guests had laid the book on top of a lit candle, and the flame had burned a mark into the back cover and through several pages.

Kirsti offered to replace it, of course, but I declined, since the mark hadn’t appeared on any of the pictures. However, she more than made up for it years later by jumping through hoops to get me a signed copy of Ryden’s Anima Mundi.

Having become a fan herself, Kirsti attended the Blood exhibit at the Earl McGrath Gallery in 2003, where she saw the haunting image of “Rose,” with her large, woeful eyes and crimson tears. When the painting became available as a limited edition pendant, Kirsti got it for me as a gift, and while I occasionally wear the pendant during the year, I always pull it out each October to celebrate the season. Now it’s become as much a harbinger of Halloween as PSLs and pumpkin carving patterns.

Last year, Kirsti and I attended the Mark Ryden-designed Whipped Cream ballet with our friend Bryan, who later surprised and delighted each of us with a Lover’s Eye brooch. Featuring a likeness of the large, wandering eye that had been projected on one of the stage curtains, its graphic gaze has joined Rose’s blood-streaked face as one of my eerie embellishments during the month of October.

If you are new to the art of Mark Ryden, you’re in for a treat (no trick!). Each time I flip through one of my books or view his work online, I encounter something fresh and am amazed anew by his attention to detail and boundless imagination. Some themes may be disquieting, but they are always served up with a soothing palette and a healthy dose of whimsy. Every autumn I fall for them all over again.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Mark Ryden

 

The “Rose” pendant is no longer available for sale, but can be found on eBay and various online marketplaces. The Lover’s Eye brooch can be purchased from Porterhouse Fine Art Editions, along with special edition Mark Ryden books and merchandise.

 

Anything Bose

Author: Kirsten K., Entertainment, Music, Wellness

A couple of years ago, when he heard that the ear buds I’d received with my iPod Classic had finally given up the ghost, my brother-in-law gave me his old Bose SoundTrue in-ear headphones. I tend to use a thing until far beyond its natural life cycle, so while I’d been coaxing every last decibel out of my standard-issue Apple headphones, I hadn’t been aware of certain advances in ear bud technology, such as soft, silicone tips with specialized “wings” that hook in the folds of the ear to keep the buds comfortably in place. Ahhh…

The darling, destructive duo of Disco and Queen.

I probably would have run these bad Bose into the ground if they hadn’t met their untimely demise at the teeth of two adorable dogs named Disco and Queen. While visiting my friend Mika, the headphones fell out of my purse in proximity to her playful pups, and when we left to run a short errand, those dear buds found my ear buds. Sigh.

Having previously had a great experience with the Bose Wave CD player—which held up so well that I sold it on eBay years later for nearly the price I paid for it—I decided to splurge and replace the obliterated buds with an identical pair, but somehow ended up with the SoundTrue Ultra version instead.

Folks, these headphones have been life-changing. Bose took their silicone tips to the next level with a noise-isolating design that instantly blocks virtually all external sound. One reviewer called these StayHear Ultra tips the headphones’ “secret sauce.” The ear buds don’t contain noise-cancelling technology, but it’s hardly necessary when the tips do such a great job of making you feel like you’re the only one—or thing—in the room.

This effect can have some drawbacks, though. Every sound you make, from heavy breathing and coughing to talking and humming along, becomes magnified within your own head, similar to when you plug your ears with your fingers. I also wouldn’t recommend wearing these headphones while driving or jogging, as they may prevent you from hearing critical sounds. But if you want to listen to music, audiobooks, or meditation recordings without distraction, these are a high-quality, comfortable, and effective option that is more affordable than the noise-cancelling variety.

I particularly enjoy using them when listening to binaural/brainwave entrainment tracks, which can quickly put me in a deeply relaxed state when I don’t have to deal with extraneous aural interference. And while I’m still holding out for a Hearo in certain circumstances, my SoundTrue Ultra ear buds make exceptional earplugs when I want instant relief, since the external sound-blocking effect is both effortless and immediate. Kirsti and I just returned from a swoon-worthy trip to Savannah and Charleston, and even the roar of the jet engines on our flights was no match for my Bose buds.

Some of the mixed reviews at Amazon indicate that high-fidelity enthusiasts might not enjoy these ear buds, but I used to work for an audiophile label and I’m very happy with these headphones. In fact, I’m prepared to buy anything Bose makes—just as soon as my SoundTrue Ultras buy the farm…or get torn apart by one of the animals.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Bose SoundTrue Ultra In-Ear Headphones

 

Since I came late to the game, Bose is already phasing out the SoundTrue Ultra in favor of its SoundSport in-ear headphones with standard StayHear tips and the the more pricey QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones with StayHear+ tips (equivalent to the Ultra), but that means you can currently find great deals on remaining pairs of SoundTrue Ultra ear buds online while supplies last, so get a move on to get your groove on.

 

Sisi Fuss

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Fine Art, History, The Arts

Kirsti and I have not written much for the blog this summer, and over the past month I haven’t felt like swooning over anything except the oppressive heat, but I’ve been roused today from my self-imposed sabbatical to commemorate, of all things, an assassination.

On September 10, 1898—120 years ago today—Empress Elisabeth of Austria, known familiarly as “Sisi” (i.e. sissy), was stabbed in the chest by a disgruntled anarchist (is there any other kind?) as she was about to board a steamship in Geneva, Switzerland. In the chaos of the attack, neither she nor her lady-in-waiting realized what had happened until Sisi collapsed and was carried aboard ship, where her tight corset laces, which had been stanching the flow of blood, were cut open to help her breathe…and that was all she wrote.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1865.

Years ago, when I’d grown my hair below my waist and was in thrall to trailing tresses, I encountered a painting of Sisi by famed royal portraitist Franz Xaver Winterhalter and developed an adult case of Princess Syndrome. In the painting, Sisi’s famously long, thick hair is unbound and flowing down her back while one creamy shoulder is exposed by the drape of a sumptuous gown. I was enchanted, and thus began my fascination with this complicated consort.

Sisi’s marriage to Franz Joseph I of Austria initially seemed like a fairytale. His mother had arranged for him to marry his cousin, Sisi’s older sister Helene, but when then-Princess Elisabeth joined Helene and their mother to meet the young Emperor for the first time, he only had eyes for Sisi. In a rare display of defiance against his domineering mother, Franz Joseph declared that he’d marry none but Elisabeth, and their betrothal was announced five days later.

This Winterhalter portrait from 1864 was Franz Joseph’s favorite painting of his wife.

The courtship and marriage were highly romanticized in the 1955 film Sissi,* but real life did not lead to a happily ever after. From the beginning, Sisi chafed at the strictures of court life, compounded by the open disdain of her overbearing mother-in-law, who took charge of raising Sisi’s two daughters and is rumored to have threatened her over not producing a male heir. By the time Sisi gave birth to a son, her first child had already died of illness, and she’d fallen into a depression that plagued her throughout her life.

Her misery manifested as a number of (likely) psychosomatic ailments and an obsession with weight and beauty involving extreme exercise and fasting regimens, daily cold showers, and hours spent brushing and styling her hair. But despite her neuroses and melancholy, Sisi was intelligent and curious, taking delight in defying convention and shocking those in her stifling milieu. She spoke several languages, was an avid reader, and had a passionate thirst for knowledge that led to wanderlust in her later years, but the death of her only son at the age of 30 in a murder-suicide with his mistress was the final blow from which she never emotionally recovered.

Winterhalter’s famous 1865 portrait of Sisi wearing crystal hair pins and a tulle gown covered with shimmering foil stars.

During her 44 years as Empress of Austria, Sisi found periods of solace by visiting Hungary, of which she was also queen through her marriage, and showed a clear preference for that country and its people. While this angered many Austrians, she remained a subject of fascination and was lauded for her charitable works and sympathy with the common man. When she was assassinated at age 60, Sisi was deeply mourned throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an area that continues to make a fuss over her to this day.

Kirsti traveled to Vienna a few years ago, where she visited the Sisi Museum in the Hofburg Imperial Palace and scored me several choice items of “Sisiana,” including syrup and jelly, tea and truffles, and a beautiful reproduction of one of the crystal starburst hair pins that adorn Sisi’s coiffure in Winterhalter’s most famous portrait of her. I have also ordered Sisi-themed chocolates (surprisingly delicious) and sparkling wine from Austria that arrived on my doorstep faster than many orders I’ve placed in the U.S.

While I enjoy using these items and admiring Sisi’s portrait on my wall (a gift from my cousin), I try not to lose sight of an enduring lesson. The irony and tragedy of celebrating Sisi for her beauty is that she derived her self-worth from her looks, which were doomed to fade over time. And though it would be easy to dismiss her as a pampered, vain royal who cared only about her appearance and didn’t appreciate the good fortune her status afforded, her story is a reminder that beauty, money, and position are no protection against adversity and heartache.

After learning about the lady beyond the canvas, I no longer have Princess Syndrome. People from all walks of life can experience tragedy and self-doubt, and every woman should know that she’s valued for more than just physical attractiveness, her spouse, or a title. The freedom to pursue your own purpose is a privilege, and it turns out that marrying into royalty is not all it’s cracked up to be (I’m looking at you, Hallmark Channel!).

But I still really love that hair.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice in this post:

Empress Elisabeth of Austria

 

Sissi* chocolates and sparkling wine can be ordered online from Austrian Shop, but be aware that availability is often unreliable.

 

*Sisi’s nickname is often misspelled as Sissi is film, literature, the performing arts, retail, and various other areas.

Sisi might remind you of another beautiful and beloved princess whose unhappiness with her marriage, royal restrictions, and public scrutiny led to depression, low self-esteem, and an eating disorder, but also sparked a streak of defiance, an interest in philanthropic endeavors, and an affinity for the common people that led to an outpouring of grief upon her untimely death.

Franz Winterhalter also painted a famous portrait of another beautiful aristocrat with fabulous hair.

 

Reap What You Soma

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

Like much of the country, we in Southern California are experiencing a seemingly endless series of summer heat waves. To add insult to injury, the air conditioner in my 14-year-old Beetle broke and I decided it wasn’t worth the money to fix it when I plan to buy a new car soon, so I chose instead to invest in another essential for surviving the summer: water.

I’d read about the Soma water filtration system on Tim Ferrissblog in 2012, but didn’t get one for myself, because I’ve had a high-quality, under-the-sink purifier for years. However, it’s wedged between the water pipe and the wall, making it a pain to change the filter (not to mention the slow leak that remained out of sight and undetected until water had seeped under the wooden floorboards halfway across the kitchen), and I started noticing a slimy build-up developing within the faucet pipe. Yikes!

That’s when I made the switch to Soma’s sleek countertop dispenser. Its BPA-free plastic reservoir holds a filter made from 65% plant-based, renewable materials that provide clean, great tasting water in minutes. The design is elegant and innovative, with a lid “door” that automatically opens while filling from the faucet, then closes when done. The shatter-resistant, borosilicate glass carafe makes a stylish serving vessel that holds 48 oz. (6 cups) of purified water and happens to nicely complement the shape of my tavern shrub glasses. Plus, unlike my under-the-sink model, it quickly disassembles for easy cleaning.

I swear that I’m not affiliated with Soma in any way, but their water filtration system is one of the best purchases I’ve made in years! Since buying their glass carafe and filter, I’ve been drinking water more regularly than I can remember. And with several affordable options to choose from—including family-friendly plastic pitchers that hold 6-10 cups, a portable water bottle with protective silicone sleeve, and their new brew bottle for making coffee and loose leaf tea on the go (want!)—there are Soma-ny ways to hydrate.

If all of that weren’t enough, you can sign up to receive replacement filters by mail every two months, and each time you purchase a Soma filter, they donate to charity: water, which works to provide sustainable, clean water in developing countries. I’ll drink to that! So be sure to water daily and frequently in this heat, because you aren’t the only one who’ll reap what you Soma.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Soma Water Filtration Systems

 

Soma products are also available from Amazon and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

 

Lemon Aid

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

Today is National Ice Cream Day, and whether you plan to celebrate with scoops of the dairy-derived dessert or pints of a plant-based alternative, I’ve got a sweet and simple recipe that you can squeeze out in mere minutes.

Many years ago, my brother-in-law’s co-worker shared his “secret” formula for a foolproof hot weather treat: lemonade ice cream. It is embarrassingly easy, utterly unsophisticated…and absolutely awesome!

With its cool, creamy texture and tart, refreshing flavor, lemonade ice cream is the perfect summertime sweet. The recipe involves just two ingredients, two pieces of equipment, and two minutes of your time—it’s almost too good to be true!

If you’re looking for a last-minute dessert, it’s lemonade ice cream to the rescue. You can blend up a batch for your next seasonal social and still have plenty of time to enjoy the lazy days of summer (emphasis on “lazy”). And when guests are swooning from the heat, start spooning up this treat and you’ll render lemon aid.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

LEMONADE ICE CREAM

Ingredients:
One half-gallon of vanilla ice cream*
One 12 oz. can of frozen lemonade concentrate

Equipment:
Large glass or metal bowl
Large mixing spoon

Directions:
Place bowl in freezer for 30 minutes or more before preparing recipe (recommended, but not strictly necessary). Set ice cream on counter at room temperature for about 10 minutes to soften. Remove bowl and lemonade concentrate from freezer. Empty entire carton of ice cream and full can of lemonade concentrate into the bowl. Mix together with spoon until blended (I prefer a uniform mixture, but my sister likes to gently fold in the concentrate, stopping when there are still random chunks of vanilla ice cream and frozen lemonade in the mix). Cover bowl and return to freezer for at least an hour to set before serving. The consistency will be a little softer than that of regular ice cream. Serve with a slice of lemon or a strip of candied lemon peel.

Variations:

  • To fancify this dorm room dessert, add a drop or two of Lavender or Rose flavor extract from Medicine Flower before mixing, then serve with a sprig or sprinkle of lavender buds or rose petals that haven’t been treated with pesticides.
  • Substitute a can of frozen concentrated limeade for the lemonade, then serve in a margarita glass. First dip the rim of the glass in lime sugar (or salt), then slip a slice of lime on the edge.

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*For vegans and those who avoid dairy products, substitute four pints of vanilla non-dairy dessert (I like Vanilla Island from Coconut Bliss) for the ice cream. Since I never see quarts or half-gallons of dairy-free ice cream at my local supermarkets, I usually make small batches of this recipe by mixing a pint of non-dairy ice cream with ¼ can (or to taste) of the frozen lemonade concentrate. Just scoop it out of the can, replace the lid, and secure with a rubber band to store in the freezer for later.

 

Taking Liberteas

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

This time last year, we gave three cheers, but not everyone wants to celebrate the Spirit of ’76 by adding spirits to the mix. For those who forswear alcohol (or sugary drinks), you can offer a refreshing alternative to the usual 4th of July fare with this festive trio of teas. Featuring botanically-based hues of red, white, and blue, these caffeine-free* brews will be a natural at your patriotic party.

The crimson of classic Red Zinger from Celestial Seasonings comes from tangy hibiscus leaves, which impart their trademark “zing” with an assist from peppermint, sweet orange, lemongrass, and wild cherry bark.

What white tea lacks in color, it makes up for in character, and with eight varieties to choose from in The Republic of Tea’s line of 100% rare Chinese white teas—including Pineapple Guava, Cucumber Mint, and Asian Jasmine—you’ll find a flavor to please every palate.

But the sapphire shade of Blue-Tee from Wild Hibiscus Flower Co. is the real sparkler here. Made from pure butterfly pea flowers, this herbal tisane has been a Southeast Asian staple for centuries, but has found recent popularity in America due to its Instagram-worthy tint and peculiar properties. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and the blue brew turns a violet hue. Mix in milk and you get something resembling Bridget Jones’ leek soup.

By taking liberties with afternoon tea, this British tradition becomes as American as red, white, and blue, so for those who want to skip the soda and bypass the booze this Independence Day, add these stars to your backyard bars and give guests their freedom of choice.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Red Zinger Tea from Celestial Seasonings
White Tea from The Republic of Tea
Blue-Tee from Wild Hibiscus Flower Co.

 

Celestial Seasonings and The Republic of Tea can be found at most chain supermarkets. Wild Hibiscus Flower Co. teas are available at many Whole Foods and Sprouts markets. If you can’t find the tea, look for their b’lure Butterfly Pea Flower Extract at BevMo.

 

*Herbal teas like Red Zinger and butterfly pea flower are caffeine-free. The caffeine content of white teas can vary widely depending on type and processing. White teas from The Republic of Tea are low in caffeine.

 

 

Pass the Buck Mountain

Author: Kirsten K., Wellness

My dog is a rescue who’d already had an unfortunate name for three years when he came to live with me, so rather than change it, I simply began referring to him as “The Beast.” Of all the animal companions I’ve had in my life, he is the sweetest, the most loving…and the most undisciplined. He also has a thick coat of fur that gets on EVERYTHING* and creates a private playground for parasites like fleas and ticks.

Parasites may not seem like a swoon-worthy topic, but neither is waking up from a night of spooning with your pooch to find itchy bites running the length of your body. Rather than pass the buck—and the bucks—to a groomer for regular flea dips, or use toxic flea and tick medications that can have harmful side effects, I reach for the Buck Mountain Parasite Dust.

I came across this product in the office of a naturopathic vet where I used to take another one of my dogs. Unfortunately, that dog had a particular sensitivity to flea bites, and even the doctor acknowledged that natural products weren’t strong enough to treat him. But when I got The Beast and flea season arrived, I decided to see what happened once this dust had settled.

The powder has only three ingredients: organic neem (a natural insecticide), yarrow (a natural insect repellent), and diatom flour (a natural dessicant). When sprinkled from head to tail along your pet’s spine, then brushed against the direction of hair growth, the powder comes in contact with the skin and finds those critters where they crawl.

Pest-free and spoon-worthy.

Whenever The Beast starts scratching, I start sprinkling. Applying the powder and brushing it into your animal’s fur provides some nice mommy-and-me time, and you don’t have to worry about it harming either of you or the environment. The powder has a pleasant herbal smell and can be used on windowsills, thresholds, and your pet’s bedding to discourage infestations in the home.

I have read mixed reviews about this product online, so it might not work for every animal or situation, but each time I powder The Beast, the fleas take a powder. Brushing it in about once a week seems to do the trick.

Flea and tick season is well underway, so if you have pets and don’t want to contend with pests, pass on those harsh chemical treatments and pass the Buck Mountain instead.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Buck Mountain Parasite Dust

 

Buck Mountain Parasite Dust can be purchased from The Pet Health & Nutrition Center, Carol’s Pet Cafe, and a variety of other online retailers. It can also be found at many holistic veterinary centers and natural pet supply stores.

 

*In the Ken Burns documentary The Dust Bowl, one woman who was interviewed said:

“My mother was very clean…She would take all her curtains down one day and wash them and hang them back up. A dirt storm would come in that night, and they would be just like they were before she washed them. That went on day after day after day. And once in a while, you would hear of some woman that just couldn’t take it anymore and she’d commit suicide.”

The Beast’s hair is my Dust Bowl.