Sex and the Valley – A Cocktail for Valentine’s Day

Author: Kirsti Kay, Cocktails, Drinks, Entertaining, Entertainment, Food & Drink, Recipes, Spirits, Television

The first time I had a cosmopolitan, I was at a trendy bar off Melrose Ave. called The Pearl. I was 25 and newly living in Hollywood. I felt so cool holding my oversized martini glass with the tart pink elixir, which tasted like a grown-up Jolly Rancher. I think I had four of them. Later that night, I threw up, and that was the last time I had a cosmopolitan for over 20 years.

Later, of course, Sex and the City made the cosmo famous. Did that tempt me? Nope. I wasn’t into drinking trendy drinks anymore. I drank red wine. I read Bukowski and made fun of drinks like cosmopolitans and apple martinis. Now I live in the Valley. I still drink red wine and I still like Bukowski, but I have definitely become less judgmental about what other people like to drink.

Recently, my friend Cindy served cosmos when my husband and I went to her house. I dubiously accepted the martini glass. I took a sip. It was unexpectedly delicious. And then, at my friend Christy’s, I was poured a freshly made cosmopolitan from a fancy pitcher, and again I was delighted by its refreshing pucker. I had come full circle back into girly cocktail territory. Were mom jeans next? Why even try to overthink it? A tasty draaaank is a tasty draaaank! The cosmopolitan was back and I was all in.

Cut to last weekend: my friend Lorne was staying with us and we invited Cindy and our friends Kelli and Doug over for dinner. Cindy was bringing some lovely wine for the shrimp pasta I was making, but I thought it would be fun to have a cocktail when everyone arrived. I thought about that damn cosmopolitan, and the newfound happiness it had brought me, and decided to make them.

You may recall that I did a post a few months back about Ketel One Botanical vodkas. To shake things up, I used the Ketel One Rose & Grapefruit vodka for my cosmos, and it definitely lent a mysterious, but much commented on, floral note that elevated the cocktail from the toast of ’90s Manhattan to sophisticated Valley Girl (I realize that might not be a great analogy, but this Valley Girl is sticking to it). Everyone loved it. Like, kinda freaked out.

Since Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, I thought it might be a good time to share the recipe. Put on your best Manolo Blahniks—or, in my case, some old comfy slippers—whip up a batch of these pretty-in-pink cocktails, and live it up à la Carrie Bradshaw. Just don’t drink four of them.


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SEX AND THE VALLEY COSMOPOLITAN COCKTAIL
(adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten)
Serves 4

1 cup Ketel One Rose & Grapefruit vodka (or your favorite vodka)
½ cup Triple Sec or Cointreau
½ cup sweetened cranberry juice
¼ cup freshly-squeezed lime juice (just do it)
Lime wheels for garnish (optional)
Organic rose petals for garnish (optional)

Pour ingredients into a large cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until cold. Pour into four martini or coupe glasses. Garnish with a lime wheel and an organic rose petal.

 

Fantastical Botanicals

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

I’ve always been a gin girl. My parents are gin people and their parents were gin people. To me, there is nothing more perfect than a well made G&T. Friends say they drink vodka because they don’t like the taste of alcohol, and that is precisely why I don’t care for the stuff—it doesn’t taste like anything. The spicy juniper notes of gin tickle my nose and make my taste buds sing. But vodka…it’s just a tasteless way to get a buzz. Vodka has been largely left out of the craft cocktail craze, but move over aged sherry and Aperol, because Ketel One is trying to change that.

Enter Ketel One Botanical, a trio of new vodkas distilled with real botanicals and infused with natural fruit essences. The triumvirate includes Grapefruit & Rose, Peach & Orange Blossom, and Cucumber & Mint. As anyone who reads this blog knows, this is classic Swoon Society territory, so Kirsten and I set out immediately to see if there was any swooning to be done.

Kirsten surprised me one night by coming over with the Grapefruit & Rose vodka. The label is so pretty, you would not recognize this as a brand that is available in your local CVS. What separates Ketel One Botanical vodkas from other flavored vodkas is that fruit essences and herbs are distilled into the spirit, giving the vodka a clean taste that isn’t sugary or artificial (think La Croix or Spindrift avec alcohol). It’s refreshing and delicate—a perfect foil for tonic or, if you are looking for a lower calorie drink, a splash of soda water. There are no carbs, and only non-GMO grains are used. And, at only 73 calories a serving, it’s a skinny drink too.

We made our first cocktail. The rose flavor was not too forward, so don’t be afraid to try it, even if you aren’t a person who loves the taste of roses in your food (like we do!). Put lots of ice in a goblet or lowball glass, garnish with a wedge of grapefruit and an organic rose petal, and then charge your guests $16, since you are now a purveyor of craft cocktails!

We soon purchased the other flavors. The Peach & Orange Blossom was the favorite among our friends who tried them. It was the most accessible, flavor-wise, and the essence of peach is quite lovely. I really love the Cucumber & Mint because this summer was a hot one and it was so nice to have an ice-filled cocktail with a long slice of cucumber and some mint sprigs outside in the evening. To be honest, the Grapefruit & Rose is probably my least favorite,* only because the rose flavor is almost too subtle to be detected. I will be keeping all three flavors in my home bar, though. They are a big hit!

Step away from your rosé, folks! Back away from that bourbon! Cast aside your Campari! Vodka is back, Baby! I never thought I would say that. I hope I don’t read that they are going to re-launch Tequiza next week. Some things, like Bruce Willis singing the praises of Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers, Zima, or even my ’80s hair need to remain a distant high school memory.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Ketel One Botanical Vodkas

 

Ketel One vodkas are available at BevMo and most supermarkets and liquor stores.

 

*Note from Kirsten: The Grapefruit & Rose is my favorite. 😋

 

It’s Pickle Time!

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

When I’m at the farmer’s market and see that yellow beans are in season, as they are now, I rejoice! That means it’s PICKLE TIME!

I’m a big fan of homemade pickles. First, because they are delicious, but also because they are easy and quick to make and people usually lose their shit over homemade pickles. Another great reason to make pickles is that you can make one big batch, which will keep you in pickle supply for a few weeks. And, better yet, you will still have enough left over to give as gifts.

There are so many vegetables that are perfect for pickling: yellow and green beans, carrots, beets, asparagus, cauliflower, cucumbers, fennel—almost any firm veggie will work. Go to the farmer’s market, see what’s fresh, and pick yourself a peck. Peter Piper won’t care.

Another great thing about pickling is that you can use the bones of the recipe and riff on it. If a Grateful Dead song was a snack food, it would be pickles. Sometimes I like to throw a little curry into the pickling liquid; sometimes it’s all about the dill, a few cloves of smashed garlic, and a healthy sprinkling of red pepper flakes. If I’m using cucumbers, I usually add more sugar than if I’m using beans. You really can’t mess them up as long as you have water and vinegar and a few spices, and showing up to your friend’s house with a jar of pickles will definitely earn you rock star status.

I know some recipes call for sterilizing the jars, yada yada yada…but the pickles never last long enough at my house to go through all that trouble. If you are planning on storing them in your cellar along with salt pork, preserves, and potatoes to get you through winter, then, by all means, please sterilize your jars. Otherwise, consume within three weeks and it’s all good, ’cause, you know—vinegar!

I like to serve pickles in a pretty dish as part of my appetizer spread. They go nicely with some salty nuts and a creamy, mild cheese to cut the vinegary tang. And when you are going to visit your friend, tie a ribbon around a jar of those beautiful pickles and bask in the glow of their delight!

Here are some tips for using different veggies:

BEANS – Wash and trim. Drop them into boiling, salted water for about four minutes and then plunge them into an ice bath before pickling. They will still be crunchy, but won’t have that raw flavor.

CAULIFLOWER – Wash and cut into florets, then follow directions above for similar results.

ASPARAGUS – Wash and trim ends so stalks are the size of your jar. Drop them into boiling, salted water for about two minutes and then plunge them into an ice bath before pickling.

BEETS – Roast before pickling. To roast beets, preheat oven to 400° F, wash and trim ends,* wrap beets in foil with a little water and place in a baking dish to roast until a knife pierces easily (about 45 minutes for four medium beets). Once cool, slip off skins with your fingers and slice into rounds or wedges. *If the greens are fresh, save and sauté with a little olive oil, garlic, and salt & pepper—delicious!

CARROTS – Peel and cut carrots in half and then half again (and half again if your carrots are large). Trim to the size of your jar. Carrots can go in the pickling liquid raw. If you boil them, they get flabby. Nobody likes a flabby pickle.

FENNEL – Wash fennel and trim fronds (which can be put in the jar along with, or instead of, dill), remove any wilted outer layers. Cut bulb in half and slice crosswise.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

BASIC VEGETABLE PICKLE RECIPE
2 lbs. veggies
2 cups water
2½ cups distilled white vinegar
¼ cup kosher salt
⅛–¼ cup sugar (optional)
2–3 cloves garlic, smashed (optional)
2 tsp. whole peppercorns (optional)
2 tsp. whole coriander seeds (optional)
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
Bunch fresh dill

EQUIPMENT
You will need three half-liter canning jars. I like Weck 742 half-liter Mold jars. They have a really nice shape. (Sold in sets of six only. They are cheaper here than at Amazon. You can also get canning jars at World Market, Target, and most grocery stores.)

Combine water, vinegar, salt, sugar, garlic, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and red pepper flakes in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Pack veggies into about three half-liter jars and add several sprigs of dill. Remove garlic from pickling liquid. Fill jars with hot liquid and cap immediately. Admire the majesty of your pickles!

Wait until jars have reached room temperature, then refrigerate the pickles. You can start eating a few hours after pickling, but they’re best if you can wait 24 hours.

Keep one, give two away!

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Other variations to try (aka channeling your inner Jerry Garcia):

  • Add 1 tsp. curry powder.
  • Replace dill with fresh tarragon, basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, or mint (or a create a combo).
  • Include several strips of lemon peel.
  • Substitute whole fennel or mustard seeds (or try half and half) for coriander seeds.

 

Royal Tea

Author: Kirsti Kay, Food & Drink, History, Hot Drinks, Nostalgia, Pop Culture, Tea

I remember when Princess Diana married Prince Charles. I got up in the middle of the night to watch the wedding on TV. It was the most spectacular wedding I had ever seen. That giant dress, the huge church filled with people, Diana’s perfectly feathered hair…I swooned and wondered what it would be like to be a princess.

Years later, I watched the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, also so lovely, with William in his red splendor, Kate in her modest, yet elegant, dress, and Pippa minding the train. The wedding was like a tasty British fairytale.

In 2011, master tea blenders Harney & Sons were commissioned to create a bespoke tea for the wedding of William and Kate. Now, with the impending nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19th, the tea is back!

Royal Wedding Tea is a white tea blended with pink rosebuds, cornflowers, marigold petals, and coconut and vanilla flavors. It is as beautiful as it is delicious. Flecks of pink rose petals are offset by the blue of the cornflowers and specks of marigold. The mild taste of the white tea is enhanced by the floral notes, and the addition of the vanilla and coconut give it a unique flavor that is fit for a princess, a duchess (Meghan Markle will be given the title Duchess of Sussex after the wedding), or even a girl from the Valley (me!).*

Come May 19th, I look forward to getting up in the middle of the night wearing my most regal pajamas, brewing a pot of Royal Wedding Tea, and shoving my face with scones, jam, and clotted cream. I might never be a princess or a duchess, but now I can drink tea like one, and that’s good enough for me.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Harney & Sons Royal Wedding Tea

 

The tin of sachets featured in this post is currently out of stock on the Harney & Sons website, but the loose tea is still available for purchase, so grab your share and a spare, or you may have to abdicate your chance to try this tea until the next royal wedding.

 

*I just found out that the future Duchess of Sussex is also a Valley girl, having grown up in Kirsten’s and my hometown of Woodland Hills. Like, OMG!

 

Killer Shrimp – A Love Story

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dinner, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Pop Culture, Recipes, Savories

Original Killer Shrimp menu.

Shrimp and bread, shrimp and rice, shrimp and pasta. Along with sweet potato pecan pie, those were the only items on the menu at Killer Shrimp, a restaurant that opened over 20 years ago in Marina del Rey, CA. The shrimp was thrown, to order, into a spicy sauce that the restaurant says is simmered for 10 hours, and comes with fresh French bread to dip into the magical elixir. To say this dish is thrilling is no exaggeration.

I lived in the San Fernando Valley and would often make the hour-long drive to eat at this punk rock homage to shrimp. The restaurant in the Marina was on the 2nd floor of an ugly 1980’s mini mall, but inside it was dark and cool and they played rad music—the kind you played in your room on vinyl after riffing through the import section at Moby Disc. No one played music like this in restaurants back in those days. Then again, no restaurant had only three things on the menu either. Killer Shrimp was more like a club than a restaurant. We even waited in line to get in. It felt a little dangerous, but exciting. Kind of like the way it felt to go to Melrose Ave. in the early ’80s when it really WAS wild to see someone with pink hair and a nose ring.

The original Killer Shrimp in Marina del Rey, CA.

Then, as if my dreams became real, they opened a Killer Shrimp in the Valley. The Valley restaurant was also very dark, but much bigger, and all the servers could have been in fashion spreads for The Face. They all wore black and, according to my friend Christy who worked there, the girls were required to wear Viva Glam red lipstick from MAC (the very first Viva Glam). It was a microcosm of cool in the Valley that hadn’t existed before or since. What all self-consciously cool restaurants these days aspire to be, Killer Shrimp simply was.

Even though there were three items on the menu, the ONLY acceptable order was shrimp and bread. Seeing the oversized bowl before you—hot, scented with rosemary and cayenne, and swimming with colossal-sized shrimp—was, in a word, exquisite. The bread that accompanied the shrimp was fresh and chewy and perfectly soaked up the sauce without becoming soggy, but we have to talk about this sauce for a minute.

The flavor was so complex, with layers of richness and spiciness and herbiness…you would have to resist the bowl-licking urge with all of your might. There are many ingredients in the sauce, including butter (a lot of butter—just deal with it), Worcestershire, lemon juice, and beer, but even though the restaurant simmers their sauce for 10 hours, you can whip this recipe up in about 15 minutes with the same glorious results. I truly cannot overstate the majesty of this dish. It makes every annoyance in life tolerable. It makes me believe in a Higher Power. It proves, without a doubt, that food is more than fuel. It is the meaning of life in a bowl.

Killer Shrimp eventually closed all of its restaurants. There was a hole in my heart the size of a giant crustacean. I searched many times online for the recipe to no avail. Several years ago, they opened a new Killer Shrimp back in Marina Del Rey, but it is not the same. It’s more of a sports bar with a huge menu and no MAC red lipstick in sight. I can’t go there. Then, one day, my sister-in-law Stacey invited my husband and me over for dinner. She had found a recipe online claiming to be as good as Killer Shrimp and was going to make it for us. I was excited, but I didn’t have much hope that it would come close to the singular deliciousness of the original. Luckily, I was wrong. It tasted, well, KILLER.

And now, for those of you that have missed Killer Shrimp for all of these years, the recipe is now yours. And for those who have never tried it, I wish I could be with each and every one of you as you taste your first bite. Maybe when your mouth explodes with fireworks of pure umami and your brain recognizes the profoundness of the moment, you will think of me.

I may just have a tube of the original Viva Glam lipstick still in my makeup bag. I’m going to turn off all the lights, blast The Clash (on import vinyl) and and serve my husband some shrimp—dressed all in black, of course—and pretend that all is right with the world.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

KILLER SHRIMP

Adapted from a recipe found on the Internet many years ago
Serves 2 (can be doubled)

¼ lb. plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1½ tsp. finely chopped garlic
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper (can be doubled if you like it really spicy)
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. dried rosemary
1/8 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
1 lb. colossal shrimp in the shell (known as Original), or peeled and deveined
½ cup shrimp, chicken, or vegetable stock
¼ cup beer at room temperature
French baguette

Combine ¼ lb. butter, garlic, Worcestershire, lemon juice, and dried herbs in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook for about 4-5 minutes to soften garlic, but be very careful not to brown or burn garlic and butter. Add shrimp and cook about two minutes (it is important not to overcook the shrimp in this dish). Add the last 2 Tbsp. butter and stock. Shake pan back and forth for two minutes. DO NOT STIR, only shake skillet, which breaks down the butter and liquid and emulsifies the sauce. Add beer and cook for one minute more, until shrimp are just cooked through.

Pour into two large bowls and serve sliced baguette on the side.

Cue The Clash and shove your face in that bowl.

You’re welcome.

 

And the Oscar for Best Snack Goes To…

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertainment, Food, Food & Drink, Movies, Pop Culture, Recipes, Snacks, Television

Oscar night is my favorite night of television. For as long as I can remember, Kirsten has come over and we settle in on the couch for a long night of eating, drinking, and yelling at the television.

I love seeing all the beautiful dresses on the red carpet while I’m in comfy clothes on the couch with my dog in my lap. I was lucky enough to go to the Oscars once and, while it was a spectacular evening (Faye Dunaway cut in front of me in the bathroom line), it was super stressful.

As much as I love watching the show, (The monologue! The winners! The montage!) I look forward to our snacking tradition just as much. Every year it is the same: champagne (natch) and popcorn. And not just ANY popcorn…Oscar-worthy popcorn! Yes, friends, this snack should be on every table at the Governor’s Ball. Heck, if they gave out this popcorn in a gold-plated bowl instead of the Oscar, I think there would be zero no-shows.

So, set your DVR for Live from the Red Carpet, chill your champagne, and make yourself a big bowl of this game-changing snack that will make your microwave* variety popcorn as boring as the Price Waterhouse portion of the Oscars ceremony.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

TABASCO PARMESAN POPCORN

½ cup unpopped popcorn kernels
2 Tbsp. canola oil
½ stick salted butter, melted
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp. (or to taste) Tabasco sauce
salt
pepper

Get out your big pasta pot and heat canola oil on high heat until shimmering. Swirl it around so it coats the bottom of the pan. Add popcorn and put the lid on the pan. Once you hear the popcorn start to pop (this will take a few minutes), turn heat down to medium high and shake the pan a few times. When there are several seconds between pops, remove from heat. There are usually some kernels that don’t pop. That is O.K.

While popcorn is popping, melt the butter and mix in the Tabasco.

Put the popcorn in a big bowl and toss with the butter/Tabasco mixture. Add the parmesan cheese and salt & pepper to taste, then toss again until mixed well.

Immediately start the second batch of popcorn, because the first bowl will be gone before Giuliana Rancic asks Greta Gerwig who designed her dress.

 

*Note from Kirsten: Kirsti has always insisted on making stovetop popcorn, which takes a little more time and effort than using the microwave, but which makes a HUGE difference. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried popcorn popped in hot oil on the stove. Don’t take shortcuts with pre-Oscars popcorn!

Second note from Kirsten: for those who don’t like spicy foods or want to put a different spin on this recipe, replace the Tabasco with 5-10 drops of liquid smoke.

 

A Rose-Flavored Holiday Story

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Food & Drink, Holidays, Recipes, Sweets

I did a crazy thing this year. I entered the Los Angeles Times Holiday Cookie Bake-Off. I never enter contests. I hate competition. I remember being in school and getting chosen last for sports teams. I hated sports. I still do. To this day, the only sport I can play with any kind of confidence is ping pong. But I always hated competition, because there has to be a loser. I know what it feels like to be chosen last, or not at all, and I don’t want anyone to feel that lonely feeling, so I have avoided competition my whole life.

A few weeks ago, I saw the ad for the Los Angeles Times Holiday Cookie Bake-Off and thought, “I CAN DO THAT!” I have some recipes that are twists on classics! I have some skills! I can bring something unexpected, yet nostalgic, to the holiday table! So I entered. I entered with a cookie I have been making for many years: rose petal shortbread. I tweaked the decorations to add holiday-colored sugar and red rose petals so the cookies would have Christmas flair, and I entered with pride.

After hitting “submit,” I realized I would have to ask my friends to vote for me. The only thing worse than competition is asking everyone I know to do me a HUGE favor. I hemmed and hawed, I sweated, I wrung my hands, I whined to my husband Aaron, but I asked. And people responded. Not only did they vote for me—some every day—they shared my post on their own pages and sent me encouraging notes of support. I was blown away by the collective kindness.

Well, I did not win, but I’m totally OK with that. The fact is, the contest was more of a popularity vote than how good your cookie is. I still feel great about my recipe, which I think reflects the zeitgeist of what is happening in baking and is really delicious and easy to make. But most of all, I felt the holiday spirit in all of my friends who voted and reposted and encouraged me. I felt humbled by the friends of friends who voted and said they thought my recipe sounded amazing and they couldn’t wait to try it.

Of course, it would have been a fancy brag to have won (there wasn’t even a prize, just bragging rights), but I got what I needed out of the contest—I felt loved and supported by so many people, even people who don’t know me. I probably won’t be entering any more contests, but I’ll keep baking and I’ll keep sharing and I’ll keep appreciating my friends and family and my new friends of friends who believed in me enough to vote for a cookie they haven’t tasted, made by a gal some of them didn’t even know. You picked me first. And that means more to me than any bragging right.

Happy Holidays, Wonderful Friends!!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

HOLIDAY ROSE PETAL SHORTBREAD
Makes about 24 cookies

Cookies:
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
⅔ cup confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon rose extract*
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon crushed dried rose petals (optional)
2 cups all purpose flour

Icing:
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
sparkling holiday sugar and fresh (organic, non-pesticide) torn rose petals for garnish (chopping makes them dark around the edges)

Combine butter and confectioners’ sugar in a stand mixer fitted with paddle and mix until combined with no lumps, 2-3 minutes. Add the rose and vanilla extracts and the crushed rose petals (if using) and mix until incorporated. Add flour in two stages until just combined.

Transfer the dough to a gallon-size Ziploc bag, leaving a small hole at the top so air can escape, and roll out with a rolling pin until dough has fully and evenly filled the shape of the bag. Refrigerate on a flat surface at least two hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325°F and line two large baking sheets with parchment. Cut the sides of the Ziploc bag and peel back the top layer. Use a ruler and nick each side of the dough at 2-inch intervals with a pizza cutter or knife. Gently cut out your squares and transfer to parchment-lined cookie sheets. Use a fork to make traditional tine marks in the dough.

Put one cookie sheet in the refrigerator while the first batch bakes, 18-20 minutes. Watch carefully toward the end. You want the cookies very slightly browned at the edges only. Cool cookies completely on wire racks.

To make icing, combine confectioners’ sugar with milk and mix with a small whisk until smooth. To decorate, drizzle icing over cookies with a fork and, while icing is still wet, sprinkle with sparkling sugar and rose petals.

 

*Rose extract is available at many grocery stores and at Amazon.

Organic dried rose petals are available at Amazon or World Market (in the spice section).

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

KIRSTEN’S PICKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

You Say Tomato, I Say Yum!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

“Mateus, please!”

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

Grandma Kay. It’s happy hour somewhere!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Seedlip Distilled Non-Alcoholic Spirits

 

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