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

 

 

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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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Illustration by Melissa Elliott

NANAIMO BARS

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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).

 

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.

 

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.

 

Take a Baobab

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

I first encountered the baobab tree when reading The Little Prince in school. I assumed that the pesky plant with the funny name* on the volcanic asteroid was fictional, so I was surprised to learn later that it was a real tree on planet Earth. I can be forgiven for thinking that the baobab was made-up, though, because a) the name, and b) have you seen one? It actually looks like it’s from an alien world. I find it ironic that the tree is native to subtropical Madagascar, because it doesn’t provide much shade from the sun, unless you stand in the shadow of its massive trunk. It does, however, provide a fruit that’s been gaining buzz recently as a superfood.

While I believe eating a balanced diet is more important than fixating on so-called “super” foods, I also believe that vitamin supplements should come from whole food sources. The powdered fruit of the baobab tree is high in vitamin C, a potent antioxidant that promotes skin elasticity, strong bones, and vascular health by helping the body build and maintain connective tissue. Plus, no scurvy! Baobab fruit is also a good source of copper, iron, potassium, zinc, and fiber. The powder is tart and slightly sweet, so it mixes well in yogurt (I prefer the coconut milk yogurt alternative from So Delicious) and can be dissolved in warm or hot water with a little honey for a refreshingly sweet-and-sour sip.

While I could get my vitamin C by eating citrus fruits, it’s much more fun to supplement with baobab powder. I dare you to say the name without smiling. It’s exotic and tasty, and you don’t have to deal with seeds or pith (I have texture issues with most fruits and prefer to eat them in smoothie—or pie—form). Vitamin C has become synonymous with healthy immune function, so rather than take two pills and call your doctor in the morning, make the call to take two teaspoons of baobab in the morning and you’ll feel super all day.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Davidson’s Organic Baobab Powder

 

I discovered Davidson’s Baobab Powder while visiting their website to order more of my favorite rose tea, but there are other companies that sell organic baobab powder, including Baobest and Organic Burst.

 

*In my search for the proper pronunciation of baobab, I’ve come across equal instances of bow-bab (as in “take a bow”) and bay-o-bab. Since I’ve always pronounced it as bow-bab, I’m sticking with that.

In fairness, only six of the nine species of baobab trees are native to Madagascar, and only one—Adansonia grandidieri—has that distinctive, otherworldly look.

Standard disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.