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.


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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.

 

Fleur Crazy

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

There are places around the country where winter is still holding on with an icy fist (My Crazy Friend Marianne™ said it snowed in her small town just a couple of weeks ago), and while many people are going stir crazy, we at The Swoon Society are going fleur crazy! As our readers know, we love foods—particularly sweets—with a floral twist, which is why we look forward each spring to the arrival of Les Fleurs du Chocolat, a limited-time collection of truffles from Vosges featuring exotic flowers and spices.

Kirsti and I discovered Vosges Haut-Chocolat (pronounced vohj o-sho-colah) in the late 1990s when the company had a single store in Chicago. We managed to catch founder Katrina Markoff on television talking about her unusual truffles with combinations like coconut/curry and wasabi/ginger—flavors that were unheard-of in the chocosphere at that time. When we saw her complete collection, which included an Absinthe truffle and one topped with a candied violet, it was swoon at first sight.

I used to drool over their beautiful paper catalogs like a teenage girl with a copy of Tiger Beat, and I started setting aside a monthly allowance to indulge in their latest offerings (including four flavors of Vosges ice cream, no longer available). On a trip to New York City in 2003, I made a beeline for their newly-opened store in SoHo to sip drinking chocolates at the bar and shop for bars of chocolate on the side. I left in a purple haze.

Katrina is endlessly inventive, and her Les Fleurs du Chocolat collection has evolved over the years to offer new surprises each spring. In addition to floral toppings like purple orchid, marigold, nasturtium, and candied violets, this year’s collection features fruit flavors (caramelized banana, Mirabelle plum, blueberry) paired with surprising superfoods, spices, and herbs (bee pollen, turmeric, lemongrass). My favorites were the Orange Coriander and Siam Citron, which left a strong “aromatic impression” of flowers from essences of orange blossom water and jasmine tea, respectively.

While we’re in a fleurry, let’s not forget the less flashy, but no less flavorful Cardamom Rose Caramels from Vosges’ Exotic Caramel Collection. Rose water and cardamom powder are added to soft, creamy caramels, then enrobed in dark chocolate and topped with bits of crystallized rose. There’s a reason Vosges refers to the flavors in this collection as parfums. They unfurl with each bite, blooming on the palate the way a fine fragrance opens in the nose.

It may be too late to slip these bouquets into a holiday basket for someone special, but I doubt anyone will mind a rain check from the Easter bunny when the IOU is for VHC. Just remember that Les Fleurs du Chocolat is only available for a short time, so hop over to the Vosges website and place your order before this garden of floral chocolates goes dormant until next spring.


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Les Fleurs du Chocolat
Cardamom Rose Caramels

 

Vosges has a full collection of sweets and treats for Easter, which will remain available while supplies last. A rep I spoke with said that items may still be in stock after they’ve been removed from the website, so call to place your order and ask about availability.

 

Poppin’ Mad

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Pop Culture, Savories, Snacks, Sweets

When popcorn lover Josh Chaney mastered his great grandmother’s secret 100-year-old vegan caramel recipe, he got a crazy idea: what if you made caramel corn…and froze it? The result was an extra crispy treat that could be stored in the freezer and remain fresh-tasting indefinitely. Along with his partner Sulmaz Rahimpour, the “Mad Popper” began experimenting with a variety of sweet and savory combinations, which culminated in the opening of California Frozen Poppers.

california-frozen-poppers

shabang

The whole ShaBang: cheddar, chile and lime.

The first thing you notice upon entering is the large chalkboard that lists the shop’s profusion of popcorn choices. I was given a chilly reception—in this instance, a good thing—with samples taken from a case typically used to serve ice cream. Spicy flavors like ShaBang, featuring cheddar cheese with chili and lime, are equally enticing frozen as candy-coated versions like Caked, a colorful confection that lets you freeze your cake and eat it too.

caked

“Let them eat Caked!”

Josh told me that his corn is air-popped and contains no oil or water, so only the topping freezes when it’s put in cold storage. This means that the popcorn can be thawed and refrozen a virtually unlimited number of times and will still taste crisp and delicious. When I asked how long the popcorn would last in the freezer, he didn’t know, because he’s had a batch on ice for six years and counting that continues to taste as fresh as the day he made it.

omg

“Like, OMG!” You’ll like OMG!

California Frozen Poppers sends its popcorn all over the country, but no special shipping or cold packs are required. It can be enjoyed at room temperature, or frozen upon arrival for an icy indulgence that will—theoretically—far outlast your restraint. In fact, your primary predicament will be choosing from their overabundance of offerings, including sweet, cheesey, nutty, and seasonal flavors. Standouts are Hefty Melons, which tastes like a spicy watermelon Jolly Rancher, and OMG!, a jaw-dropping medley of chocolate, caramel, sea salt, and peanut butter M&Ms that is NSFW (Not Safe For Waistline).

With specials and samplers, vegan and gluten-free options, and a constantly evolving lineup of flavors, you’d have to be mad not to pop over to California Frozen Poppers and get a taste of this cool concept.

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California Frozen Poppers

 

 

Order of the Purple Hearts

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

sjaaks-lavender-heartsFebruary 14th is still a week away, but I’ve already received my order of purple hearts from Sjaak’s Organic Chocolates. These foil-wrapped confections put the “V” in Valentine’s Day with a vegan truffle center that’s infused with lavender.

I’ve written before about the fact that Kirsti and I don’t do subtle when it comes to flavorings, particularly floral ones, and these chocolates don’t disappoint. The lavender is distinct and tastes like the true essence of the herb. Blended with a creamy ganache made from all organic ingredients, including dark chocolate, cashews, almonds, and coconut oil, these dairy-free delights make a thoughtful gift for animal lovers, organic-vegan-chocolate-lavender-heartpeople with dietary restrictions, and those who simply enjoy singular sweets.

Sjaak (Dutch for Jacob) is pronounced like Jacques, the name of the company’s Netherlands-born owner, who is committed to compassion and sustainability through the family’s organic, fair trade, vegan products. Their variety of Valentine offerings includes both Cherry and Raspberry Hearts, but it’s the Lavender that will have you writing purple prose to its flowery flavor. So if you want to give a gift from the heart, don’t just pay it lip service. Order today and stock the Sjaak’s.

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Sjaak’s Lavender Hearts

 

Lavender Hearts can also be purchased in bulk.

 

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!

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Wondermade Gold & Champagne Marshmallows

 

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

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*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. ❤️

 

Shell-Stocked

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

cacao-shell-teaThis presidential campaign has left many Americans feeling shell-shocked. The divisive rhetoric, constant twists and turns, arguments among friends and family members, and contentious result have brought a new level of anxiety to an already incendiary topic. When I’m stressed, I usually deal with it by making myself a hot cup of tea, enjoying a bit of chocolate, and reading up on a favorite subject—such as American history—which is why I’ve been keeping my cabinets well-stocked with Martha Washington’s cacao shell tea.

The latest twist on drinking chocolate, cacao tea is actually a Colonial American tradition.martha-washington An invigorating brew made from roasted cacao shells, Martha Washington’s Chocolate Shell Infusion is as delicious today as it was during her tenure as First Lady. Cacao shells are the husks that encase cocoa beans before they are removed during chocolate production. When steeped in hot water (at least 10 minutes for optimal flavor), they create a tasty caffeine-free beverage with just a touch of chocolate’s natural stimulants, making it a great way to start the day or end the evening. According to the label, Martha Washington enjoyed sipping cacao shell tea at breakfast.

While the roasted shells have a similar aroma to brewed chocolate, the infusion has its own unique flavor profile. Cacao tea has a delicate bouquet and mild bitterness that is completely unlike hot cocoa or chocolate-flavored black teas, delivering the essence of chocolate without the richness or the jitters. For a treat that’s lighter than hot chocolate and won’t keep me up at night, I add a little milk and sweetener. When I want a more intense flavor, I heat the shells and water together on the stove for several minutes before straining into a teacup. It’s a versatile brew fit for both the White House* and your own house.

tea-party-politics

It was tea that got this party—and these Parties—started, so why not host a post-election tea and serve Martha Washington’s Chocolate Shell Infusion? It may not contain any actual tea, but it might help you form a more perfect union, because whether you gather to celebrate or commiserate, cacao tea is sure to get the popular vote.

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Cacao Shell Tea

 

Martha Washington’s Chocolate Shell Infusion is available directly from the producer, Oliver Pluff & Company, which also makes a mint version.

 

*Yes, I am aware that Martha Washington never lived in the White House.

 

Garrison Dealer

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

Garrison Dealer 1Knowing of my love for quality chocolate, friends and family members have become enablers of my addiction, searching out unique treats to give as gifts on birthdays and special occasions. My latest dealer is my mother’s friend Pia, who surprised me at Christmas with a beribboned box of chocolates from Garrison Confections. I’d never heard of the company, but was delighted when I opened the box to see that it contained a ganache infused with Prince Vladimir Tea from Kusmi. However, it was their unusual series of chocolates featuring pâte de fruit that won me over.

Garrison Dealer 2Pâte de fruit is a classic French candy with intense fruit flavor and a consistency that falls somewhere between gumdrops and Jell-O (they are often referred to as “fruit jellies”). Garrison offers intriguing combinations like “cherry pâte de fruit on top of a pistachio ganache enrobed in dark chocolate” and “red currant pâte de fruit on top of almond marzipan enrobed in milk chocolate,” but the grapefruit version atop a tarragon-infused ganache was a standout, as was their hazelnut praline blended with fennel pollen. The chocolates are also lovely to look at with their whimsical screen-printed images.

Andrew Garrison Schotts, the creator of Garrison Confections, is a pastry chef who has worked at The Russian Tea Room in New York and Guittard Chocolate Company in San Francisco, among other renowned culinary establishments. He has written the book Making Artisan Chocolates and was named “Hottest Chocolatier” in America by The Food Network in 2007. Yep, he’s a pusher. You can get your fix with Garrison’s seasonal collection of boxed chocolates or with a variety of bars and chocolate-themed goodies.

If you’re a cacao junkie like me, try a line of chocolates from Garrison…and hope that nobody attempts an intervention.

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Garrison Confections

 

Making Artisan Chocolates can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 

“Oh, fuuuudge…”

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

Fudge 1If you didn’t have the “presents” of mind to consult our Holiday G.I.F.T. Guide earlier, and now, with Christmas just days away, you’re empty-handed…or, you’ve been asked to bring something sweet for the holiday dessert table, but you still haven’t wrapped a single present, much less had time to bake…it’s O.K. to use the “F” word. No, not that one. The Queen Mother of delicious words. The “f-dash-dash-dash-DASH” word—fudge! As someone who enjoys giving and receiving gifts of homemade goodies from the kitchen, I’ve sampled and prepared my share of fudge recipes, but the best one I’ve tried also happens to be the easiest. The Five-Minute Fudge from My Sweet Vegan is not only vegan-friendly and gluten-free, it’s the richest, creamiest fudge you’ll ever taste.

Fudge 2

photo credit: Hannah Kaminsky

Unlike many fudge recipes that require a candy thermometer or become grainy if not cooked just right, this recipe is simple and virtually foolproof. Made with rich, thick coconut milk and powdered sugar in place of granulated sugar, the fudge comes out silky smooth every time. Whether nestled in tissue paper inside a decorative gift box, wrapped in cellophane as a stocking stuffer, or arranged on a platter and served to guests, this homemade fudge is a quintessential holiday treat that everyone will appreciate, including those with food allergies or dietary restrictions.

If you want to get creative, the recipe can easily be adapted for a number of variations. The original recipe is called Five-Minute Coconut Fudge and includes shredded coconut, in addition to coconut milk. At the holidays, peppermint extract and crushed candy canes can be substituted for a festive seasonal touch. I prefer the warm flavors of walnuts and vanilla, but the possibilities are as vast as your imagination. You can work in fudge the way other artists might work in oils or clay, producing original gifts in minutes that will be fondly remembered long after the last bites have been eaten…and that’s a Christmas story with a happy ending.

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FIVE-MINUTE FUDGE (adapted from My Sweet Vegan by Hannah Kaminsky)

Fudge 31 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips*
3½ cups confectioner’s sugar
½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. dairy-free margarine†
½ cup regular canned coconut milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Lightly grease an 8×8-inch square baking pan. In a large bowl, combine the chocolate chips, sugar, and cocoa. Separately, place the margarine and coconut milk in a small saucepan and stir together over medium heat. Cook the mixture until the margarine has melted and bubbles just begin to break at the surface. Remove it from the stove and immediately pour over the chocolate mixture. Fudge 4Let everything sit for a couple of minutes, and then stir vigorously to melt the chocolate and incorporate the dry ingredients. Continue stirring until a completely smooth mixture forms. Mix in the vanilla and chopped walnuts and quickly pour everything into your prepared pan, smoothing out the top with a spatula. Let cool completely before cutting into squares. Makes 32 small squares.

*To make the recipe truly vegan, use a dairy-free brand like Enjoy Life.

†I prefer Earth Balance. For a soy-free option, try their Soy Free spread.

 

Fudge 5Variations:

To make the original coconut fudge, omit the walnuts. After pouring the fudge into the pan and smoothing the top, sprinkle one cup of flaked coconut evenly over the entire exposed surface. Press the coconut gently into the fudge with the palm of your hand and let cool.

To make peppermint fudge, add 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract with the vanilla extract and stir in 4 smashed candy canes. Omit the flaked coconut and top the fudge with the crumbs of 5 additional crushed candy canes instead.

History in the Making

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

History in the Making 1Readers of this blog know that I’m a chocolate lover, but I am simply carrying on a long-standing American tradition. Cocoa trees have been grown in the Americas for thousands of years, although it wasn’t until Cortés observed the Aztecs drinking chocolate in 1519 and introduced the custom to Europe that it began to take on the form we enjoy today. Brought to the east coast of North America in the 17th and 18th centuries by British colonists who imported it from Europe, chocolate was a favorite drink of the Founding Fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. At the birth of our country, these men all had a connection to Williamsburg, Virginia, and it was on a visit to Colonial Williamsburg several years ago that I first came across American Heritage Chocolate.

History in the Making 2Created using authentic recipes from the 1750s, American Heritage Chocolate includes spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, orange, vanilla, and even chili pepper. Naturally, my curiosity was piqued, but when I saw that the chocolate was produced by the MARS candy company, I was a little dubious. I associated MARS with the kind of chocolate typically found at 7-Eleven, not with pricier artisan brands, but I was intrigued enough to purchase a block of it. I’m glad I did, because this is a truly unique—and uniquely American—product.

History in the Making 3

Illustration by Melissa Elliott

The chocolate comes in sticks, bites, and blocks, or finely grated to make a hot beverage. The sticks and blocks, which are lightly dusted with cocoa powder, have a look and texture that is best described as “rustic.” The flavor is fruity up front and finishes with a slight kick from the pepper, but the consistency is somewhat coarse and chalky. Part of the charm of this chocolate is that it’s made using 18th-century methods, so it doesn’t have the glossy sheen and smooth texture you expect from modern production techniques. For this reason, I feel that American Heritage Chocolate is best enjoyed in the colonial manner, melted in hot water for a traditional, full-bodied drink or mellowed with the addition of a little milk (or coconut milk), but I have snacked on the bites and taken a chip off ye olde block to use in recipes calling for semisweet chocolate. For a treat that’s an American original in more ways than one, chop the block or sticks into chunks and use them in chocolate chip cookies.History in the Making 4

It is often said that everything old is new again. The Historic Division of MARS was formed in 2006 “to educate consumers on the history of the Americas through the unique lens of chocolate.” While others are taking chocolate into the 21st century with additives like bee pollen, espresso powder, and craft beer, American Heritage Chocolate is looking to the past to give modern-day palates a taste of history in the making.

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American Heritage Chocolate

 

Visit the American Heritage Chocolate website to scroll through an interactive History of Chocolate and to find a merchant near you, or purchase directly from the Williamsburg Marketplace.

See more artwork by Melissa Elliott and read about her process on her blog, The Slipcover.

Ask for the Moonstruck

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

Moonstruck 1As a minimalist, I like to splurge on consumables. One brief, shining moment of glory and then they’re gone, leaving behind only a happy memory. As a chocolate lover, I’m always on the prowl for something fresh and unusual featuring the beloved bean. Because my browser knows me so well, it recently alerted me to this adorable coffin (do you think those two words have ever been used together before?) from Moonstruck Chocolate Co. in Oregon. Packed with monstrously delicious truffles like Frankenstein Toffee, Popping Praline Mummy, Blood Orange Devil, and Crème Brûlée Werewolf, this collection is as delightful as it is frightful.

Moonstruck 2Since I was already splurging, I decided to add their 6-piece Flavors of Fall Collection to the mix. Fall is my favorite time of year, so what could be better than the flavors of fall interpreted in chocolate? Pecan Pie, Pfeffernüsse Spice, Harvest Almond Praline, and Pumpkin Pie—hold me! I wish I could tell you that I swooned over these chocolates, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to eat one yet. They are so beautiful that I may have turned into a filthy hoarder like Kirsti, unable to use things up and thereby end the anticipatory glee.

My order was delivered just days ago, but it appears that the company has already run out of Haunted House coffins, since they are no longer featured on the website. However, the individual truffles are still available, along with 4-piece Pumpkin Patch and Monster Mash Collections and a 5-piece Spooky Spider Collection. Moonstruck ships on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays and offers 2-Day and Next Day shipping options, so there’s still time to get your monster truffles by Halloween if you order in the next couple of days.

In the meantime, I plan to bury these chocolates in my mouth, so I hope that biting into a werewolf doesn’t have the same effect as being bitten by one, because I’ve been well and truly moonstruck.

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Moonstruck Chocolate Co.

 

10/30/15 update:

I am happy to say that, having sampled each of the offerings in the Haunted House and Flavors of Fall collections from Moonstruck, these chocolates are to swoon for. They have some of the creamiest truffles I’ve ever tasted. My favorite might have been the milk chocolate pumpkin, which has a touch of pumpkin pie spice in the dusting of sugar on the outside. The Frankenstein has so much detail and expression that I could hardly bear to bite into him…but I did, and it was electrifying.

You may have missed the opportunity to sample their Halloween and Fall collections, but their Classic Truffle Collection is available year-round, along with a variety of other chocolates. Be sure to keep an eye out for their upcoming holiday collections.