Castile Yourself

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

Here in Southern California, fall pretty much passed us by this year, and it was starting to look like winter might also be a no-show. I’ve been wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt on my nightly walk for the past couple of months, and the closest I’ve come to snow was getting caught in the fabricated flurries at Disneyland. While those being bomb-ed with frigid temps and icy conditions in the east might be envious of this mild weather, I look forward to our brief cold season each year with excited anticipation and have been impatiently waiting for months to sit wrapped in a fleecy blanket while sipping (and reading) something steamy.

Well, steel yourself, because winter has finally arrived! This week brought cooler temperatures to SoCal and the first big rainstorm of the season. To celebrate, I made a beeline for a book, a blanket, and a batch of my favorite cold weather treat: Castillian* hot chocolate.

Several years ago, Kirsti and I went to Barcelona, where we enjoyed a traditional Spanish breakfast of chocolate caliente con churros as we sat at an outdoor cafe on La Rambla. ¡Delicioso! This ain’t your mama’s hot cocoa, unless your mamá can trace her ancestors back to the historic Castile region of central Spain. The secret is the addition of cornstarch, which thickens the mixture to an almost pudding-like consistency, giving it a decadent richness and a smooth, glossy sheen.

I have been making Castillian hot chocolate for years and it is foolproof. I don’t remember where I found the simple recipe, but it seems to have come from The Vegetarian Epicure (Book Two), so I must give credit where credit is due. Pop a handful of frozen churros in the oven when you get started and they’ll be ready for dunking by the time your hot chocolate has simmered to perfection.

It appears that this cold snap will be gone in a flash, so before Mother Nature takes the starch out of winter, put some starch in the water and you’ll be on your way to a cup of hot chocolate that is sure to steal—and warm—your heart.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

CASTILLIAN HOT CHOCOLATE

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. cornstarch
½ cup water
1 quart (4 cups) milk
1 tsp. cinnamon, vanilla, or espresso powder (optional)

Sift the cocoa and sugar together into a medium-sized saucepan. Dissolve the cornstarch in the water, and stir into the cocoa and sugar until it is a smooth paste. Begin heating the mixture, stirring it with a whisk, and gradually pour in the milk. Add cinnamon, vanilla, or espresso powder, if using. Continue stirring with the whisk as you bring the liquid to a simmer. Allow the chocolate to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until it is thick, glossy, and completely smooth. Pour steaming hot into coffee mugs. Serves six.

 

*The alternate spelling of Castilian is also common.

You can veganize this recipe by using non-dairy milk, such as soy, almond, or coconut (if using canned coconut milk, dilute first with double the amount of water—i.e. 1⅓ cups of canned coconut milk + 2⅔ cups water = 4 cups of milk).

 

Advertisements

Pluff Piece

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

This date is steeped in history. Two hundred and forty-four years ago today, trouble was brewing in Boston Harbor as colonists, angry about the British Parliament’s recent tax on tea, boarded ships of the East India Company and tossed chests of imported tea into the water. To commemorate this act of defiance against taxation without representation, you can now host your own Boston Tea Party with American heritage teas from Oliver Pluff & Co.

A purveyor of historic beverages, Oliver Pluff offers Colonial teas and remedies, pressed tea bricks, coffee, toddy mixes, and other early American potables. I wrote about their cacao shell tea last year, which now comes in a mint mixture that is perfect for seasonal sipping. Also apt for the holidays are their wassail mulling blends for making spiced wine and cider.

Among a variety of themed collections is a Teas of the Boston Tea Party gift box, featuring five teas that were popular in 18th-century America. A favorite of colonists was Bohea, a blend of pekoe and souchong teas with a strong, smoky flavor that will have you yelling, “Boo-hee!”

Taxes are once again on everyone’s mind, so after you stand up to make your voice heard on the issue, sit down to enjoy a cup of Colonial coffee or tea and celebrate the freedom to participate in representative government. There’s still time to treat yourself or someone on your list to a taste of history this holiday season with a gift from Oliver Pluff.

Leaf and bean come to you, and to you your wassail too, and we bless you and send you a Happy New Year. Cheers! ☕


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Oliver Pluff & Co.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Tea for 2

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

.

♪ ♫ Here at The Swoon Society
There’s tea for two and two for tea
To toast our anniversary with you…♩ ♬

The Swoon Society turns 2 today!

Join the chorus (and the Doris)
as we celebrate with the festive
Birthday Cake blend from DAVIDsTEA.

..

☕ Cheers to two great years! ☕

Happy Swooniversary!

 

 

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

 

 

Sharing o’ the Green

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Tea, Wellness

What is it about mints and gum that prompts people to share? I can’t remember a time that I’ve been out with a group of friends when I haven’t had an open tin or pack offered to me. It’s like the universal gesture of amity and goodwill. In this spirit of generosity, I will share with you my sweet secret for healthy teeth, fresh breath, and a strong jaw: Green Tea Chewing Gum from Spry.

As I’ve written about before, I am a stickler for oral hygiene, but I’ve had my share of dental issues over the years. One hygienist I spoke with said she’s seen patients who are meticulous about brushing and flossing, but have new cavities with every visit, while others never floss and don’t brush regularly, yet enjoy a mouthful of flawless pearly whites. Genetics, diet, and lifestyle all play a factor, but you can tip the scales in your favor by chewing gum daily.

Not all gums are created equal, however. Some contain sugar and are little better than candy, while others are filled with artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose. Spry uses xylitol, a naturally-derived sweetener that reduces cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth, helping to protect teeth and gums while neutralizing unpleasant odors.* I also find that Spry gum is slightly tougher than most other chewing gums I’ve tried, which is great for strengthening the teeth and jaw.

Beautiful on Raw gives a concise explanation for how thorough chewing can inhibit bone loss and increase density by applying stress to the teeth and jaw, which draws bone-building minerals to the area. It also increases the flow of calcium-and-phosphorus-rich saliva to help prevent tooth demineralization. I have a friend who is primarily interested in how chewing gum regularly can change the shape of one’s face, giving it a more attractive structure.† In any case, the practice is so easy and the benefits so numerous that it’s time to get busy chewing!

I like to chew gum for 5-10 minutes after I eat and 45 minutes to an hour on my nightly walk. I simply pop a piece in my mouth before I head out the door, then discard it when I return. This way, I get in a good amount of daily exercise without offending anyone by chewing in social situations.

But why green tea? Simply because it tastes great! Sugarless gums all seem to come in standard flavors of peppermint, spearmint, cinnamon, and fruit, but the Green Tea version from Spry has an almost floral note that is refreshingly unique. You won’t need mint to freshen your breath when xylitol is on the job.

This St. Patrick’s Day, instead of looking over a four-leaf clover, turn over a new leaf and start chewing on the idea of deliciously improving the health and beauty of your mouth and jaw with Spry Green Tea gum. Then pay it forward by sharing o’ the green.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Spry Green Tea Chewing Gum

 

Spry gum can be found at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and The Vitamin Shoppe, but many stores don’t stock the Green Tea flavor, so look for it online from Xlear and Amazon.

 

*Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs and cats, so NEVER leave an open purse or container of xylitol-sweetened gum within reach of your pets.

†For this purpose, he recommends Falim gum, which is quite tough to chew. I tried it once and could definitely feel the stress on my teeth and jaw, but I didn’t enjoy the taste or the level of difficulty involved.

 

Tea Drops – The Cutest Tea You Will Ever Drink

Author: Kirsti Kay, Food & Drink, Hot Drinks, Philanthropy, Tea

rose-earl-grey-tea-dropsForget your single origin oolongs, your hipster matcha tea shops, and your precious high tea at fancy hotels. I have discovered the cutest tea in the world and you can drink it in your own home, wearing that dirty Aerosmith t-shirt while binge-watching Santa Clarita Diet. It’s called Tea Drops and it will make you wonder why you ever bothered with tea bags or fumbled with a messy tea ball.

Tea Drops are individually packaged organic teas pressed into darling little shapes that steep instantly in hot water and contain just the right amount of pure organic cane sugar—a self-contained Cute Bomb! Simply put a Tea Drop in your favorite teacup and pour boiling water over and you have a delicious cup of perfectly measured, sweetened, spiced tea.

Founder and CEO Sashee Chandra grew up in a tea drinking household, but discovered when she started working in the real world that making tea the old-fashioned way was inefficient, especially in the fast-paced environments of today’s companies, so she created a way to make a fancy tasting cup of tea quickly. By shaping tea into fun shapes with sweetener and spices, she created the perfect cuppa for the girl (or boy) on the go. By packaging her tea in biodegradable and compostable wrapping and boxes, Sashee gives us even more reasons to go on a tea spree.

tea-dropsWith flavors like Cardamom Spice, Citrus Ginger, Sweet Peppermint and—my favorite—Rose Earl Grey, there is a tea for everyone. Tea Drops are made from organic tea leaves (not instant tea), so there is some sediment that will linger at the bottom of your cup, but it is perfectly fine to drink. Many enjoy drinking the sediment as part of their tea experience, but you can always leave the last sip if that’s not your thing.

If the adorable shapes and unique flavors aren’t enough to get you to take the plunge, Tea Drops also donates a YEAR’S SUPPY OF CLEAN WATER to a person in need with every order, no matter how small! Without water, there would be no tea, and without tea, there would be no scones or jam or clotted cream, and without scones or jam or clotted cream, there would be no happiness, so it’s so nice to know that by soothing your soul with beautiful tea, you are helping people at the same time. You can also donate $25 through the company’s website to Thirst Project, which provides a lifetime of water to someone in need.

With so many reasons to try Tea Drops, why not join the #CommuniTEA today?

S.W.O.O.N. Stamp
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Tea Drops

 

Click here to learn more about the partnership between Tea Drops and Thirst Project.

 

No Pleasure Without Champagne

Author: Kirsten K., Entertaining, Food & Drink, Holidays, Hot Drinks, Spirits, Wine

wondermade-gold-champagne-marshmallowsI believe there is no pleasure that can’t be heightened with the addition of champagne. This celebratory drink tickles the senses and delights the spirit, especially during the holidays, when it symbolizes fellowship and festivity. Creative culinarians are finding new and inventive ways to incorporate champagne into all manner of sweets and savories, but the folks at Wondermade have given new meaning to sparkling wine by gilding their lily-white champagne marshmallows with 24 karat gold.

gilty-pleasureWondermade artisan marshmallows are handcrafted with pure cane sugar and “100% sweet magic air.” I have no doubt that there is wizardry involved, because they have achieved pillowy perfection with these scrumptious squares, which come in flavors ranging from bakery sweets (Sugar Cookie and Gingerbread) to boozy treats (Bourbon and Fireball). But I prefer to pop open a box of Gold & Champagne Marshmallows at this time of year to dress up a cup of rich hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night. Served in a gold-rimmed demitasse, this “gilty” pleasure is the definition of decadence.

Offer a gold plated dessert on your holiday buffet by setting out a platter of glittering marshmallows—perhaps alongside a chocolate fondue or fountain—and even the teetotalers and designated drivers in attendance will be able indulge in a bit of bubbly. So whether you raise a coupe, cup, or cube this New Year’s Eve*, say “Cheers!” with champagne and you’re sure to have a wonder-ful night. Happy Swoon Year!

S.W.O.O.N. Stamp
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Wondermade Gold & Champagne Marshmallows

 

Wondermade marshmallows are also available at select Lolli & Pops stores. Flavors change seasonally, so check back throughout the year.

.
*It may be too late to acquire a box of Wondermade marshmallows in time for midnight tonight, but Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. ❤️