A Rose-Flavored Holiday Story

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

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 quart-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).

 

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Green Fairy Tale

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Drinks, Entertainment, Food & Drink, History, Movies, Recipes, Spirits

Twenty-five years ago today, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was released in theaters. Being a fangirl (emphasis on “fang”), I flew out to see it, but amidst the gore and gothic romance, one scene sank its teeth into me:

Count Dracula fills a glass with green liquid, then pours water from a carafe over a sugar cube, which rests on an intricate silver spoon suspended atop the glass. He tells Mina, “Absinthe is the aphrodisiac of the self. The green fairy who lives in the absinthe wants your soul, but you are safe with me.” Mina takes the sugar cube and sucks on it with a look of ecstasy on her face.

Needless to say, I swooned.

For the past decade, absinthe has been enjoying a revival, but back in 1992, I hadn’t heard of it. The public Internet was in its infancy, so I had to do some old-fashioned library research in order to learn more about this mysterious drink. I discovered that it was a popular libation in Gilded Age Paris that was purported to have psychedelic properties and had been credited with inspiring great works of impressionist art, literature, and music. It had also been illegal in the United States since 1915.

Absinthe is a potent alcoholic drink featuring a mixture of botanicals, including sweet anise, fennel, lemon balm, star anise, and peppermint. One primary ingredient is grande wormwood, an herb containing high levels of thujone, long thought to be responsible for absinthe’s mind-altering effects. Due to its transformational nature and the vivid green color of the liquid, drinking absinthe became known as “romancing the green fairy.” It was believed to be highly addictive and, in the lead-up to Prohibition, took the blame for many of the social problems of the day.

The forbidden always seems more exotic, so I plotted to get my hands on a bottle, but years passed without success. I traveled to New Orleans in the spring of 2000 and visited the site of the Old Absinthe Bar where, ironically, there was not a drop of absinthe to be had due to the continued ban on its importation, but I was not the only one who’d caught absinthe fever. That same year, a product called Absente was released in America. Marketed as the first legal absinthe in the U.S. since the ban, it was made using a process similar to the original 19th-century versions, replacing the wormwood with southernwood and adding sugar.

I immediately purchased a bottle, along with their matching absinthe-style glasses and spoons. Still infatuated with the ritual that I’d seen at the cinema and read about in my research, I reverently set up my glass and spoon, placing the sugar cube just so, then carefully poured ice-cold water over the sugar and into the glass of Absente. I watched, captivated, as they combined to create la louche—the magical alchemy that transforms clear, emerald-hued absinthe into the opaline shade of green milk glass. This was finally happening! I brought the glass to my lips and took a sip.

In the build-up to this moment, I’d never entertained the thought that anticipation of a thing is often greater than the thing itself. I had also failed to consider that absinthe contains two types of anise—a flavor I don’t favor. Further, I’d never been a fan of hard liquor. Even watered down and sweetened up, this brew was robust, to say the least. I could only choke down about half of the liquid.

Disappointed, but unbowed, I wasn’t quite ready to abandon my quest for true absinthe. Despite discovering that I didn’t dig the drink, I still yearned to experience the heady effects that had inspired artists like Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec and authors such as Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway, so the search carried on and I continued to accrue absinthe accoutrements.

Helping to keep the dream alive, absinthe was featured in two movies released in 2001. The first was Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!, in which several characters savor the spirit and subsequently hallucinate a green fairy in the form of Kylie Minogue. A few months later, I found myself once again in the theater staring up at a stunning bottle of absinthe in From Hell, where Johnny Depp’s character is at once chasing the dragon and romancing the green fairy.

Eventually, Kirsti—who’d caught the absinthe bug from me—convinced a friend who was traveling to the Czech Republic to smuggle a bottle of genuine absinthe back to the U.S. for us. Bottle finally in hand, we set out our paraphernalia and prepared to imbibe. This was it.

Antique silver absinthe spoons are highly collectible, but these stainless steel versions are beautiful and affordable.

I didn’t feel the same thrill I’d experienced when preparing to drink Absente for the first time, but we performed the revered ritual and drank up. I finished my entire glass and even had another, but as the evening progressed, I never felt more than a slight buzz from the alcohol—no symphonies heard, stanzas conceived, or scenes envisioned, and not a single flash of fairy wings.

The romance was officially over.

My absinthe-related supplies and books were relegated to a dusty shelf, while the bottle of contraband liquor languished in a cabinet. This would have been the end of the story if not for our friend Mika, who, in addition to being a trained opera singer and pastry chef, is a talented mixologist with a knack for dreaming up delicious drinks. She likes to rinse a glass with absinthe before constructing a cocktail, or incorporate a small measure in the mixture itself, imparting an almost floral note that I find enchanting. Like many a skilled composer, she doesn’t always transcribe her technique, but BuzzFeed compiled a convenient list of absinthe cocktails for those who don’t take their liquor neat—or too seriously.

Hidden within this vintage-inspired artwork by Robert Rodriguez are the names of Tempus Fugit’s absinthes.

If you have the heart of a true absintheur, you’re in luck! Absinthe was officially legalized in the United States in 2007, leading to a flood of options for enthusiasts. Absente was reformulated to contain actual wormwood, and even Marilyn Manson got in on the game with his acclaimed version, Mansinthe. Many are of high quality, but beware of imitations. I tried one that looked more like mouthwash than absinthe and did not form a louche when water and sugar were added. We at The Swoon Society are partial to Vieux Pontarlier, a pre-ban absinthe from Tempus Fugit Spirits, purveyors of luscious liqueurs in beautiful bottles.

Despite some conflict along the way, this green fairy tale has a happy ending, so raise a glass in cheers to a journey of 25 years, but opt for emerald and skip the silver…unless there are vampires about.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Absinthe

 

Have you caught the bug? For detailed information about the history, ingredients, and ritual of absinthe, visit Absinthe Fever.

 

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.

 

Lolly Bragging

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

Halloween is just two weeks away, so it’s time to start thinking about candy (as if we at The Swoon Society aren’t thinking about it all year long). When it comes to trick-or-treaters, are you an apple (shame!), popcorn ball (boo!), candy corn (eek!), loose change (argh!), or miniature variety pack (yay!) dispenser? My brother-in-law’s aunt used to give out whole candy bars on Halloween. She did not mess around.

If hordes of sugar-mad zombies find their way to your door each year, you may have to be more practical, but I live on a steep, intimidating hill in a neighborhood with few children, so I have the luxury of splurging on the 3-5 trick-or-treaters who ring my bell annually. This year, I got them these bewitching lollipops from Natural Candy Store.

Everything sold by Natural Candy Store is 100% natural—no scary ingredients like artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, or hydrogenated oils. In addition, their Halloween lollipops are allergy-friendly, vegan, and gluten-free, so I’ve got all the bases covered (except diabetes). Generously sized with flavors ranging from cherry, grape, and orange to cocoa and vanilla bean, these lollies will have trick-or-treaters bragging to their friends about their haul (I hope).

If you’re not prepared to go all in on individual treats, Natural Candy Store has a frightening array of Halloween sweets in bulk sizes, including Trick or Treat Mix, Organic Skull and Ghost Lollipops, Crispy Milk Chocolate Jack-O’-Lanterns,* Natural Gum Pops, Wholesome Organic Fruit Chews (uncanny facsimiles of Starburst) and, yes, even popcorn balls and candy corn. They also include free samples with every order (my favorite is the CleanCandy Watermelon Wheel).

Now that the candy has been taken care of, it’s time to turn my attention to pumpkin carving patterns and decorating, because Halloween is almost here and there’s no time for lollygagging.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Natural Candy Store

 

*Orders to hot weather regions may require special shipping.

 

The Spice Trade

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

Tomorrow is the first day of fall, which marks the official start of Pumpkin Spice Season. But before you head to Starbucks for a PSL, I have a PSA: there’s another seasonal spiced drink that just might make you lose your gourd. At this time of year, when everyone is preaching about pumpkin spice, I’m reaching for Bengal Spice.

As a rule, I’m a loose tea person, so I don’t pay much attention to commercial brands of tea packaged in individual bags, but my friend Stephanie made me sit up and drink years ago when she introduced me to Bengal Spice from Celestial Seasonings. Stephanie is the kind of friend who, when you stop by “for a second,” will invite you inside for a chat and begin loading up the kitchen table with all manner of gourmet goodies: French cheeses, Swiss chocolates, crusty breads, spiced nuts, and several different kinds of tea. On this particular occasion, she brewed a pot of Bengal Spice and served it with milk and honey. A caffeine-free take on traditional Indian chai, Bengal Spice contains familiar ingredients like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves, but when milk and honey are added, it tastes like butterscotch. Really. Top with sweet whipped cream and it’s almost like having hot butterbeer.

Unlike pumpkin spice, Bengal Spice is available year-round, but I like to reserve it for fall, when cooler temperatures (and nesting tendencies) make me long for warming spices. I always drink it with milk and honey, because it is this combination that creates the candied alchemy. I can brew it easily, economically, and frequently at home—no need to stand in line or sell the farm for a soothing cup of seasonal cheer. And since it’s caffeine-free, enjoying a mug before bedtime actually helps me fall asleep.

Here in Southern California, the forecast for the coming week shows rising temperatures, so while the masses greet the season with all things pumpkin spice, trade in your PSL for a BST and experience true Indian Summer.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Bengal Spice Tea

 

Celestial Seasonings teas are sold at most supermarkets. Bengal Spice can also be purchased from Amazon.

 

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.

 

Taking the Waters

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Cold Drinks, Food, Food & Drink, Fragrance, Savories, Sweets, Wellness

Here in Southern California, we’re on the tail end of yet another summer heat wave. It feels like we’ve been pummeled with them this year, barely having time to enjoy a week of “cooler” temps (90s instead of 100s) before the next one rolls in. This latest wave brought some dreaded humidity that made going outside feel like stepping into a wet sauna. Ugh. We’re only midway through the season, so to keep my cool and freshen up when there’s no time for taking a bath, I’ve been taking the waters.

I discovered the culinary delights of rose water and orange blossom water when I got to know my Persian co-workers many years ago. They explained that Middle Eastern cooks use these floral waters in cooking and baking the way that most Americans use vanilla. I quickly learned that the waters also make fragrant and refreshing toners and tonics. During the summer, my favorite cooling trick is to pour them into spray bottles and keep them in the fridge for sweetly-scented spritzing throughout the day.

For years, I could only find Indo-European brand rose and orange blossom waters at Whole Foods and the ethnic foods aisle of some chain grocery stores, but then a large Middle Eastern market opened a few miles from my house and introduced me to a whole new world of culinary waters. There were familiar ingredients, like dillweed, cumin seed, and licorice, alongside less common ones, such as borage, sweetbriar, and willow, but some of the names were unrecognizable to me. What the heck is hedysarum? And fumitary water sounds like a treatment you’d be given on the road to wellville.

I bought them all.

Since I’m more of a baker than a cook, the dillweed and cumin have languished on a shelf, but orange blossom continues to be a favorite scent, and a rose by any other name—whether Naab or Ghamsar Kashan—smells as sweet. A whiff of willow holds hints of violet and rose, while fumitary emits the unexpected essence of peppermint. On sweltering summer nights, nothing beats a mist of mint water on sheets, pillows, and overheated skin, especially under the cooling currents of a fan.

Many of the descriptions online recommend taking these waters as a tonic beverage with plain water and sugar added. According to one, chicory water can “refine the blood,” promoting skin and liver health. Another claims that fenugreek water helps lower blood sugar and strengthen hair. Willow is said to stimulate the appetite, while fumitary (sometimes called fumitory) is beneficial for treating eczema and psoriasis. Hedysarum, which has a flavor completely unfamiliar to my American palate, tastes slightly medicinal, with a sharp earthiness and a trace of fruit that is both strange and exotic … and, apparently, useful for whooping cough.

In addition to Indo-European, I have found culinary waters from Cortas, Al Wadi, and Sadaf, but the largest selection is produced by Golchin. Most of them are only $3-5 a bottle, so stock up this summer and hydrate liberally, inside and out, because taking the waters is (almost) as therapeutic as a trip to the spa.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Culinary Waters

 

If you don’t live near a Middle Eastern market and can’t find these culinary waters at your local grocery store or gourmet food shop, many are available online from Persian Basket.

 

Get Into Your Divvies

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

For months, whenever I walked through the bakery section of my local market, I’d glimpse rows of cellophane bags standing at attention, each holding three perfectly stacked cookie sandwiches. Being a Double Stuf person, what caught my eye through the clear wrapping was a thick layer of white frosting in between each set of generously proportioned cookies. They were slightly more than I wanted to spend, but I was prepared to put a bag (or two) of these Divvies cookie sandwiches in my basket when I saw that they were made for people with dietary restrictions. Equating those words with boring and tasteless, I quickly moved on.

(Coconut) Milk and (vegan) cookies.

But that clear bag is diabolical.

Every time I went grocery shopping (usually on an empty stomach—the ultimate marketing no-no), I would stare at those cookies…and they would stare back. So I finally broke down and bought a bag.

Uh oh.

Sometimes it’s better NOT to know. I was safe when I thought they’d be stale and bland, but once I discovered their soft, chewy texture, abundance of chocolate chips, and rich, buttercream-like frosting, I knew I was in trouble.

A tragic case of mistaken identity.

Calling on hidden reserves of self-control, I only allow myself to indulge on occasion, so I almost snapped when a recent snafu caused me to pull a bag of oatmeal raisin cookie sandwiches out of my grocery bag when I got home. For those who know me, this is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Raisins are always an affront, but when you’re expecting chocolate chips? We’re talking Et tu, Brute?-level betrayal. I thought about rushing right back to the store, but it had been a long, tiring day. Plus, I hate returning food items, since I know they can’t be resold, so I did what any reasonable person would do: I got a pair of tweezers.

If you love raisins, good news! These cookies are LOADED with raisins. (Bad news: you and I can never be friends.) By the time I’d cleaned house and sent the Sun Maid packing, my oatmeal cookie sandwich was FUBAR (fouled up beyond all raisin). I was feeling cheated of a rare indulgence, so I checked carefully the next time I went to the market and saw several bags of Divvies chocolate chip cookie sandwiches grouped together on the display table. I was about to grab a bag when I noticed that one appeared to have more frosting than the others, so I eagerly popped it in my basket…only to pull out another bag of oatmeal raisin cookies when I got home.

Shaking my fist at fate and the fact that chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal raisin cookies look disastrously alike, I vowed to stick with brownie cookie sandwiches from now on.

The last time I bought a bag, the checker asked if I was vegan. I said no, although I try to avoid animal products as much as possible, but we both agreed that Divvies stand toe-to-toe (and bottom-to-bottom) with any other gourmet cookie sandwiches on the market. So vegans and people with nut, egg, and dairy allergies, rejoice! You can indulge like all the rest of us “civvies”…just make sure to check your bags first so you know what you’re getting into.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Divvies Cookie Sandwiches

 

Divvies are available at Sprouts and other markets, coffee shops, and specialty food stores nationwide. Click here to find a location near you.

 

Three Cheers for the Red, White, and Blue

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Food & Drink, Holidays, Spirits, Wine

If you plan to toast America’s Independence Day, you have three ways to say, “Cheers!” Those who enjoy bold flavor might try a red sparkling wine,* such as Lambrusco (wine blogger Marissa A. Ross is a fan), while traditionalists can opt for a classic champagne made with white wine grapes (our choice for the occasion, natch, is Cuvée Thomas Jefferson Cremant de Limoux Brut). But those who enjoy things a little off-color will swear by something blue.

Yes, blue sparkling wine is becoming a thing. There’s a blue prosecco from Italy, which gets its color from blue curaçao, but this 4th of July we’re raising a glass of Blanc de Bleu Cuvée Mousseux by Bronco Wine Company. Made from Chardonnay grapes with a touch of blueberry juice for color, Blanc de Bleu is a respectable effervescent wine with crisp, dry flavor…but let’s face it—the color is why we’re talking a blue streak about this cerulean sparkler.

The unexpected hue of Blanc de Bleu is mesmerizing and sure to become the center of conversation at any gathering. Much like rosé wine, which beguiles with its blush, blue sparkling wine is fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously (will #intotheblue replace #yeswayrose?). It’s a natural choice to serve at weddings and gender reveal parties…or to class up your backyard barbeque. There’s still time to stock up for tomorrow’s celebration, so get a case of the blues this year and spread some holiday cheer(s). Happy 4th, Swoonsters! 🥂 🇺🇸


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Blanc de Bleu Cuvée Mousseux

 

Blanc de Bleu is available at BevMo, Total Wine, and many wine shops and liquor stores.

 

*You can also add cranberry juice to white sparkling wine for some bright red refreshment. With a splash of Cointreau or Triple Sec, this is known as a Poinsettia and makes a festive cocktail to serve during the Christmas holidays.

 

Turn to Mushrooms

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

In a recent email to his subscribers, Tim Ferriss recommended the Superfood Mushroom Sampler Box from Four Sigmatic. Despite our sleep mask setback, I decided to order the box after reading about Tim’s experience with their mushroom coffee: “I was on FIRE for the entire day. I got more done that day than three or four days prior to that.” For a product that claims to deliver energy and focus with less than half the caffeine of regular coffee and none of the jitters, this was a ringing endorsement.

The “Finnish Funguys” at Four Sigmatic combine mushrooms, adaptogens, and superfoods to make earthy elixirs with nootropic properties. Translation: these plant-based brews can improve mental clarity, enhance memory, and increase productivity.* I was excited to try the samples, including two coffees, two hot cocoas, and four tea-like blends, but when I told Kirsti that I’d ordered mushroom coffee, her reaction was immediate and emphatic: “Yuck!” I thought she’d be intrigued, having just returned from a trip to Finland, where she found both the country and the people to be beautiful and charming, but she’s a coffee purist who was horrified at the thought of a fungus among us. Her too cool for toadstools attitude meant that I was on my own with this experiment.

Check out the effects of coffee #onshrooms.

I’d been expecting the mushroom coffee to taste just like java, but it had a slightly burnt flavor that wasn’t wholly unpleasant, although it wouldn’t pass muster with a coffee connoisseur. What I didn’t actually expect was the physical and mental boost I experienced during the day. I’d already been at work for hours flitting from project to project and talking a mile a minute before it occurred to me that this excellent new work ethic might simply be the effects of my morning joe. I stopped to check in with myself: no jitters or agitation, merely a feeling of energy and drive.

I waited a couple of days and tried the second packet of coffee. Again, I felt that increased and sustained energy as I went about my day. Since I’m not usually a strong placebo responder, I can only attribute the vroom to the ‘shroom. I’ve tried the hot cacao mixes (not sweet enough for me, but easily remedied) and the four elixirs, which tasted like bitter herbal tea. The addition of stevia leaf to Cordyceps, Lion’s Mane and Reishi softens the edge and imparts a light sweetness, but Chaga is best downed like a shot. To help make sense of its sampler, the company has compiled this handy guide, or enroll in their free Mushroom Academy.

The brew that started it all may be more “champignon of coffee” than champagne of coffee, but if you’re looking for a pick-me-up at work that won’t get you worked up, a comforting cup of Four Sigmatic will make you turn to mushrooms. So live like the Funguys and give these fungi a try.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Four Sigmatic Superfood Mushroom Sampler Box

 

As of this writing, the Superfood Mushroom Sampler Box is sold out, but Four Sigmatic products are available separately or in discounted bundles.

For a more in-depth review of Four Sigmatic and their mushroom coffee, visit Nootropedia.

 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, so nobody’s minding the spore. Drink responsibly.