A Legend, in Her Own Time

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature, Nostalgia

Tasha Tudor 1Today would have been the 100th birthday of beloved children’s book author and illustrator Tasha Tudor. During her long and fruitful career, she illustrated close to one hundred books and produced thousands of original paintings, many of which have been turned into cards and prints. Her work is highly sought after by collectors, but—despite having received numerous awards for her books and critical praise for her art—Tasha’s personal life began to eclipse her artistic life when she became equally, if not more, famous for her 19th-century lifestyle.

Tasha Tudor 2Unlike many children who grew up in the second half of the 20th century, I was not raised on Tasha Tudor’s books. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that I was first introduced to her through the pages of Victoria magazine, which has done a number of features on Tasha’s life and work over the years. I became captivated by this artist and author who, with her talent and resources, could have enjoyed every modern convenience, but chose to live her life as a woman of the 1800s.

Tasha Tudor 3Beginning with The Private World of Tasha Tudor, a series of books about her lifestyle was released in the early 1990s with elegant photographs by Richard W. Brown showing Tasha going about the daily business of milking her goats, cooking on a woodstove, spinning wool into thread, and quilting in front of the fire. Blurring the line between life and art, she found beauty in the simplest tasks and once said, “I’ve never worked a day in my life!” Convinced that she’d lived before in the 1830s, Tasha said that everything from that period came easily to her. She seemed to excel at any craft she attempted, whether basket making, woodworking, knitting, or weaving, but her favorite pastime was gardening.

Tasha Tudor 4Tasha lived in rural Vermont in a house that was built by her son. Although constructed in the 1970s, her home was modeled on a 230-year-old house and erected using hand tools, so it looked—like Tasha herself—as if it belonged to another century. The magnificent garden she cultivated on her vast property was her pride and joy. It was celebrated in the book Tasha Tudor’s Garden by Tovah Martin and featured on an episode of the ABC news program Primetime Live in 1997. She called it “Paradise on earth!”

Tasha Tudor 5Although she was in her early 90s when she passed away in 2008, Tasha never lost her childlike spirit and sense of wonder. She had a lifelong love of marionettes and dolls, and the contents of her immense dollhouse were put on display at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in 1996. Christmas was her favorite holiday, for which she began preparing months in advance. She wrote and illustrated several Christmas books and created annual holiday-themed images to be made into Christmas cards and Advent calendars.

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Tasha also had an affinity for animals, but was especially fond of birds and Welsh Corgis. She produced a popular series of books about the fictional town of Corgiville and christened her home Corgi Cottage in honor of her beloved dogs. Animals appear frequently in Tasha’s art, which she drew from life. With inspiration all around her, images of Tasha’s home, garden, children, pets, and household items can be found in the works of art she created by a window in a small corner of her kitchen.

Tasha Tudor 7Tasha’s conversation was peppered with quotes from books she’d read or people of note. Her favorite came from a letter written by Fra Giovanni in 1513 and included the lines: “No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present moment. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take joy!” It is from this quote that the titles Take Joy! The Magical World of Tasha Tudor and Take Peace! A Corgi Cottage Christmas were appropriated for a pair of short documentaries about Tasha’s life.

Tasha Tudor 8While she enjoyed quoting others, Tasha was highly quotable herself. She once said, “I think I’ve done a good job of life,” which is more than evident to anyone who has read her books, seen her paintings, or had a glimpse into the idyllic world she created in the New England countryside. A believer in reincarnation and the fluidity of time, she declared, “When I die, I’m going right back to 1830.” For all we know, she’s there right now (or, rather, then), tending her garden and gathering wood for the stove.Tasha Tudor 9

Later today, I plan to enjoy afternoon tea—a daily ritual for Tasha—with a slice of cake from her “receipt” book to celebrate a woman for whom life itself was a work of art and whose indomitable spirit didn’t let a little thing like the 20th century interfere with her desire to live in the 1800s.

Happy 100th Birthday to Tasha Tudor: a legend, in her own time.

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Tasha Tudor

 

Books by and about Tasha Tudor can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For original art, prints, rare books, and other Tasha Tudor collectibles, visit Cellar Door Books. Explore the Tasha Tudor Museum to learn more about her life and art.

God Save the Cocktail

Author: Kirsti Kay, Cocktails, Drinks, Food & Drink, Recipes, Spirits

It seems like every time I turn around there is a new artisan product: artisan cheese, artisan beer, artisan chocolate, even artisan water (really, Whole Foods, with your asparagus water?). One of the most intriguing artisanal products I’ve come across in the past several years has been craft bitters.

God Save the Cocktail 1Back in the days of our parents’ cocktail parties, there was only good old Angostura, but now there are thousands of different craft bitters being made around the world. Bitters started out as medicinal—usually a mixture of spices, roots, bark, seeds, flowers, and fruit peels infused into alcohol. They were used as a digestive aid or as medicine, but eventually were added, by the dash, as a flavoring for cocktails. According to Brad Thomas Parsons, author of Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All with Cocktails, Recipes and Formulas, bitters gained popularity in Colonial America, although there is evidence they were being used in cocktails in England in the early 1700s. The complexity bitters add to a drink is what separates an average cocktail from an inspired work of sipable art—the one where you keep taking little slurps trying to discern all the different layers of flavor that are making your mouth sing, and you feel absolutely justified spending $16 on the dang thing.

God Save the Cocktail 2When I first started noticing this onslaught of bitters, I wanted to try them all…lavender, tangerine, cardamom, celery…but soon there were so many, even my fetishy delight at all the little apothecary bottles was replaced with an overwhelming sense of panic: How will I track down all the other special ingredients in these recipes? Do I know enough people who will come over and try these varied and complicated drinks? Do I really need a muddler? Will I need to start dressing in only pre-prohibition clothing and seek out friends with handlebar mustaches? Dizzy with all these quandaries, I gave up and stuck to my go-to bitter-infused cocktail—the dependably delicious Manhattan—put on some Cab Calloway and called it a day.

Recently, I read a blurb in a magazine about bitters from a company called Cocktail Punk, whose goal is to “create compelling accents for the modern cocktail…simple yet devious. They are perfect in classic cocktails but were really designed for the cocktails that haven’t been invented yet.” I liked their renegade spirit and their chubby dropper bottles with their simple labels—elegant, but with a Vivienne Westwood snark. I promptly ordered*:

God Save the Cocktail 3CHERRY BITTERS – A cherry bomb, targeted directly at (your) Manhattan. Vibrant cherry, a hint of vanilla, and subtle spice complements the oak flavors in dark spirits, but the flavor profile is simple enough to use wherever a touch of cherry is needed. You’ll never need a barspoon of syrup from the Luxardo jar again.

SMOKED ORANGE BITTERS – Smoked Orange is the new black. Orange zest is cold-smoked with alderwood, and the result is smoky but not overly intense; a finishing touch of mint adds interest. Built for and absolutely killer in tequila and mezcal drinks, but there are also unexpected and wonderful effects in combination with darker spirits.

MORNING GRAPEFRUIT BITTERS – Zesty grapefruit flavors, but with a pronounced aromatic backbone and a touch of juniper. Inspired by an eccentric uncle who enjoyed the old Southern habit of a breakfast grapefruit half with sugar and bitters added. A seasonal bitters made only in peak grapefruit season.

God Save the Cocktail 4I received the Cocktail Punk bitters in the mail, happily opening the box to reveal my prize. I quickly got to work on making a Manhattan with the Cherry bitters. They were right, I didn’t need any Luxardo syrup to achieve a perfectly balanced cherry kick. I did, however, enjoy a few Luxardo cherries thrown in along with a twist of orange. Heaven. I tried the Smoked Orange bitters in an Aperol Sour and received a satisfying amount of praise from Kirsten and Aaron (Aperol is an Italian bitter orange aperitivo similar to Campari). I will be making these on the regular. Finally, I tried the Morning Grapefruit bitters in a simple Greyhound. I quote the first Sharknado when I say, “’Nuff said!”

I’m looking forward to inventing some of my own cocktails using Cocktail Punk’s bitters. And I might trade in the Cab Calloway for some Clash or Fear. I still don’t have any friends with handlebar mustaches, but I have plenty of friends who like punk, so I’m not bitter.

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God Save the Cocktail 5CLASSIC MANHATTAN

¾ oz sweet vermouth
2 ½ oz bourbon
few dashes of Cocktail Punk Cherry bitters
Several Luxardo cherries
1 twist of orange peel

Place cherries in a chilled cocktail glass. Stir together vermouth, bourbon and bitters with ice in a mixing glass until cold, trying not to bruise the spirits. Strain into cocktail glass. Rub edge of the orange peel over rim and twist over the drink to release the oils, discard. Makes 1 drink.

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God Save the Cocktail 6APEROL SOUR

1 ¾ oz Aperol
¾ oz lemon juice
¼ oz simple syrup (recipe below)
few dashes Cocktail Punk Smoked Orange bitters

SIMPLE SYRUP

2/3 cup water
2/3 cup sugar

Simmer sugar and water in a saucepan until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool. Makes about 1 cup.

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add all ingredients and shake until cold. Strain into a cocktail glass. Makes 1 drink.

God Save the Cocktail 7.
GREYHOUND

1 ½ oz gin (or vodka)
5 oz freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
few dashes Cocktail Punk Morning Grapefruit bitters
1 twist of grapefruit peel

Pour ingredients into a highball glass filled with ice and stir to combine ingredients. Garnish with a twist of grapefruit peel. Makes 1 drink.

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Cocktail Punk

 

The book Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Aperol can be found at BevMo and most liquor stores. You can purchase Luxardo cherries from Williams-Sonoma and Amazon.

*Descriptions of bitters from the Cocktail Punk website.

On the Mehndi

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Books, Literature, Nostalgia, Synchronicity

Mehndi 1Mehndi is the ancient art of applying a paste made from henna powder to the skin in intricate patterns, which creates a reddish-brown stain that can last for one to three weeks. Even though this form of ornamentation has been practiced in India, North Africa, and the Middle East for thousands of years, it didn’t become popular in the United States until Madonna and other celebrities started sporting henna designs in the 1990s.

Mehndi 2At the time, I was working for a skin and hair care company. We sold a book featuring cosmetic practices of different cultures around the world, which included pictures of mehndi designs. A co-worker and I were fascinated and wanted to try it for ourselves, so we picked up some black henna hair powder (not to be confused with PPD “Black Henna”, which can be dangerous) at a health food store, mixed it with water, and applied the paste to our feet to test it out. Nothing happened. We’d figured that black henna would create a darker stain, but without the Internet as a resource, we had difficulty finding answers to our questions, so we gave up.

Mehndi 3

photo credit: Christina Chico, model: Payal Patel, makeup: Shirley J. Arcia

In 1997, the movie Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love was released to much controversy over the erotic nature of the film. The trailers featured Indian women covered in mehndi, so I knew I had to see it. I sat alone in the theater with a bunch of pervy-looking men and, while they were salivating over the racy love scenes (which actually seem quaint by today’s standards), I was swooning over the henna designs on the women’s hands and feet.

Mehndi 4Earlier in the year, I’d read an article about mehndi in the January 1997 issue of Los Angeles magazine, which mentioned that henna artist Loretta Roome would be setting up The Mehndi Project at Galerie Lakaye in West Hollywood that month. When my friend Maggie was visiting from Seattle a short time later, I told her about it and she was interested, so I took her there to get a henna “tattoo”. I observed the process and took mental notes. It turns out that you must use red henna and you should mix the paste with lemon juice or a similar acidic substance to properly activate the lawsone dye in the plant, which produces the stain.Mehndi 5

When I got home, I searched out the tiny plastic bottles with their fine metal tips that I’d seen the artist use on Maggie, then bought some red henna from my local Indian market. I mixed it with water and lemon juice and applied a simple design on the palm of my hand. When I washed it off a few hours later, there was a pale orange stain, which developed into a dark reddish-brown over the next couple of days. I’d done it!

Mehndi 6I played around with mehndi off and on for a few years, reading some books on the topic and even making mehndi cookies at one point, but I’m no artist. I eventually became frustrated with my limitations and abandoned it, but I never stopped appreciating the beauty and artistry of the practice, so it was an act of serendipity that brought Prashanta from Divya Henna into my life.

Mehndi 7I met her three years ago and we discovered immediately that we had many interests in common, among them a love of mehndi. Unlike me, Prashanta is actually a talented artist who had been practicing mehndi informally for years, but wanted to do it professionally. She was just getting her career underway and was looking for a guinea pig on whom to practice new designs and techniques, so I volunteered. One of the things that Kirsti and I find the most swoon-worthy is synchronicity—that magical moment when things line up perfectly in ways you could never have planned or foreseen. After years of wanting to wear beautiful mehndi designs myself, I had a professional henna artist who couldn’t wait to paint me up one side and down the other!

Mehndi 8

Mehndi by Divya Henna from an original design by Ravie Kattaura.

Whenever I am adorned in one of Prashanta’s designs, I get stopped in stores, restaurants, and even on the street by people who want to admire her artwork and ask questions. She loves and respects Indian culture and prefers traditional Indian mehndi designs over the types of henna tattoos you typically see offered at fairs and along boardwalks. Nowadays, she is in demand as a mehndi artist for Indian weddings, doing elaborate and exquisite designs on brides that cover the hands, arms, feet, and legs and can take hours to complete.Mehndi 9

She doesn’t have much free time anymore to practice on me, but I’m still fortunate to get mehndi from her on occasion and to enjoy her company in the process. I am also routinely stunned by the precision and creativity displayed in the pictures she posts online of designs she has completed, a few of which are featured here. If you don’t live close enough for Prashanta to paste mehndi on your skin, seeing her masterful handiwork will definitely paste a smile on your face.

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Divya Henna – Facebook
Divya Henna – Instagram

 

The book Mehndi: The Timeless Art of Henna Painting by Loretta Roome can be purchased at Amazon.

Visit Christina Chico Photography and makeup artist Shirley J. Arcia online.

Yes, Grasshopper

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Drinks, Entertaining, Food & Drink, Recipes, Spirits

I’ve always thought of Crème de Menthe and Crème de Cacao as the kind of alcohol you sneaked from your friend’s parents’ liquor cabinet at a slumber party. Syrupy sweet and not too potent, they were the type of thing that my underage taste buds and underdeveloped palate could tolerate and even enjoy. As I got older, however, I began to develop a taste for wine and what I deemed to be sophisticated cocktails. No candy-colored “mom drinks” for me. That is, until I came across Tempus Fugit Spirits.

Tempus Fugit 1I was initially drawn in by their packaging—sinuous bottles with sumptuous labels that would have been perfectly at home in a 19th-century Parisian bar. Tempus fugit (“time flies”), indeed. But then I read about their Crème de Cacao and Crème de Menthe, and reliable sources seemed to agree: these liqueurs were something new and special, a cut above. The Tempus Fugit website states: “Our goal is to source and recreate rare spirits and liqueurs from the pages of history to satisfy the demands of the most discerning connoisseur.” Being a lover of both history and rare spirits, I had to try them out for myself.

I procured a bottle of each and was delighted to discover that the praise was warranted. The Crème de Menthe is made with spearmint, in addition to the usual peppermint, so it’s cool and refreshing with a little bite that nicely balances the sweetness. And there’s no neon green in sight. The liquid is as clear and pure as the taste on your tongue. The Crème de Cacao, on the other hand, is the rich brown of its namesake, in contrast to the white version that is traditionally used to make grasshoppers. It is truly extraordinary. Thick and sweet without being cloying, it has an intense chocolate flavor that aficionados will adore.

Tempus Fugit 2Put these two together and you have a cocktail that will make your friends swarm…and swoon. This ain’t your parents’ grasshopper. People will plague you for the recipe, so here it is:

TIME FLIES (AND SO DO I) GRASSHOPPER

1.5 oz. Tempus Fugit Crème de Menthe
1.5 oz. Tempus Fugit Crème de Cacao
1.5 oz. light cream
ice

Mix together in a cocktail shaker, then strain into chilled glasses. Serves 2.

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Tempus Fugit Spirits

 

Tempus Fugit Crème de Menthe and Crème de Cacao can be purchased from K&L Wines.