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. 😋

 

Advertisements

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.

.
*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.

 

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!

.
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.

 

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.

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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!

 

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