Good Sport

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Ritter Sport Milk Chocolate with Rum Raisins & Hazelnuts

 

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

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

 

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Lemon Aid

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

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

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

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

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


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

LEMONADE ICE CREAM

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

Equipment:
Large glass or metal bowl
Large mixing spoon

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

Variations:

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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).

 

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.

 

5/27/18 update:

Divvies has a new Sugar with Lemon Cookie Sandwich! It has the same chewy texture and creamy filling as Divvies’ other allergy-free and vegan cookie sandwiches with a squeeze of bright citrus flavor and a golden color that means there’s no chance of mistaking it for any other sun-ripened fruit (ahem). Enjoy one for afternoon tea accompanied by a cup of Earl Grey with a slice of lemon, or as a summertime snack with a tall glass of iced tea, lemonade, or a mixture of both. Pucker up!

 

Hive Talkin’

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

Last weekend, I attended an event for Earth Day that included a presentation by The Valley Hive, a beekeeping outfit based in the northeast San Fernando Valley. They were invited to discuss the threat to honeybees and what’s being done to protect them—and, by extension, our food supply. This was serendipity, because I’d been wanting to learn more about The Valley Hive since visiting their kiosk at a local mall and tasting a “flight” of honeys.

Head beekeeper Keith Roberts led the presentation with an entertaining and informative talk about the tools and techniques used in beekeeping. He shared some surprising facts about honeybees, which are more fascinating than I’d imagined. Did you know that a hive functions as a pure democracy, with the bees making decisions by consensus that, scientists have discovered, are correct about 98% of the time? We could learn a lot from them about cooperation vs. competition.

But there IS some competition, which occurs when a queen dies or disappears from the hive. Sensing her absence, the bees will start feeding large amounts of royal jelly to a number of larvae. This high-protein substance causes the developing bees to transform into queens, which, upon hatching, will engage in a fight to the death until a single victor emerges. If one of the queens should hatch before the others, she will spear her remaining sisters in a Shakespearean act of mass regicide (and a few other -cides). Hamlet’s got nothing on the hive.

Despite the drama, this story has a sweet ending. The bees make and store honey for food, but produce much more than they actually need, so we humans can skim a little off the top without harming the hive. Honey is rich in antioxidants and never spoils. It has antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties and can speed the healing of wounds and burns. While I hear every spring about eating local honey to protect against seasonal allergies, Keith says the results of this practice have never exceeded the placebo effect in scientific studies (having recently read Suggestible You by Erik Vance, I’ve developed a healthy respect for the placebo effect).

Still, it’s always a good idea to support your friendly neighborhood beekeepers by purchasing local honey (defined as anything within 300 miles). Honey is naturally viscous, so large-scale producers must heat it above a certain temperature in order to fill assembly line bottles quickly, which destroys some of its beneficial properties. If your honey has a thin consistency or never crystallizes, it’s probably been subjected to high heat or “honey laundering,” so buy raw and local whenever possible.

Over the years, I’ve purchased many different varietals of honey, from alfalfa to tupelo, but I’d never had the opportunity to try several all at once until sampling the lineup from The Valley Hive. With just a taste of each, I was able to compare the nuances of avocado, buckwheat, orange blossom, sage, and wildflower honeys. It’s amazing to discover how different they are when experienced side-by-side. Sage and orange blossom, both light and extra sweet, are perfect for adding to hot or iced tea. Buckwheat is dark and strong, so it pairs well with pungent cheeses and imparts richness to barbecue sauce. Avocado was described to me as savory and has an almost buttery flavor, making it ideal for dressings and sauces. I bought a jar of wildflower honey for myself (because floral) and a jar of avocado for Kirsti, who likes to cook.

The best news we heard was that honeybee populations have been steadily rebounding over the past few years after the devastation caused by Colony Collapse Disorder. While CCD continues to be an issue, its causes are better understood today as beekeepers, scientists, and agribusiness work together to protect these vital contributors to the well-being and beauty of our ecosystem.

Small-scale beekeepers are usually passionate about the environment and the integrity of their honey, so remember that the “buzz” word is local. By supporting local beekeepers, you also support local agriculture and promote diversity, so get a bee in your bonnet to find a small-batch producer near you (or online), because when honeybees thrive, life is sweeter for everyone.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

The Valley Hive