Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Use of Frankincense in Aesop's Fables

A handful of large frankincense tears from Oman by Michelle Krell Kydd 

Aesop was an ancient Greek slave and storyteller who lived between 620 and 560 BC, so it isn't surprising that frankincense appears in two of his fables; “The Crow and Mercury” and “The Mole and His Mother." Incense is deeply embedded in ancient Greek scent culture. It's the difference in how the aromatic resin is used in each of the fables attributed to Aesop that makes their inclusion interesting. 

In “The Crow and Mercury,” an ensnared crow prays to Apollo for help and promises to leave an offering of frankincense at the god’s shrine if he rescues him. The crow reneges on his promise after he’s freed, but soon finds himself ensnared a second time. 

A contemplative black crow by by Carl T. Bergstrom 

 The bird makes the same petition, but this time he directs his prayer to the god Mercury, who responds by reminding the crow of the unfulfilled promise he made to Apollo, ensnaring the crow in his false promise. It’s a befitting touché:  
A crow caught in a snare prayed to Apollo to release him, making a vow to offer some frankincense at his shrine. But when rescued from his danger, he forgot his promise. Shortly afterwards, again caught in a snare, he passed by Apollo and made the same promise to offer frankincense to Mercury. Mercury soon appeared and said to him, “O thou most base fellow? How can I believe thee, who hast disowned and wronged thy former patron?“ 
“The Mole and His Mother,” like “The Crow and Mercury,” is informed by ancient Greek scent culture. In this fable frankincense is used as a smell test versus a religious offering. 

The hand/paw of a European mole by Didier Descouens

When a young mole “insists he can see though blind from birth” his mother tests his sense of smell (as opposed to vision). The young mole identifies a few grains of frankincense as a single pebble, proving he can neither see nor smell: 
A mole, a creature blind from birth, once said to his Mother: "I am sure than I can see, Mother!" In the desire to prove to him his mistake, his Mother placed before him a few grains of frankincense, and asked, "What is it?' The young Mole said, "It is a pebble." His Mother exclaimed: "My son, I am afraid that you are not only blind, but that you have lost your sense of smell." 
Each fable features a protagonist that lies. A desperate crow makes false promises to gain freedom from a snare—he does this twice. A young mole exaggerates his visual aptitude and inadvertently conflates his inability to see or smell. 

When “The Crow and Mercury” and “The Mole and His Mother” are considered together, we learn that the promise of frankincense attracts the divine and its aroma exposes the truth. Consider this the next time you hold a few pieces of frankincense in your hand before setting them down on incense charcoal or an electric incense heater. 

Notes & Curiosities: 
Apollonius of Tyana threw frankincense into a fire as an offering accompanied by this prayer: "O thou Sun, send me as far over the earth as is my pleasure and thine, and may I make the acquaintance of good men, but never hear anything of bad ones, nor they of me." Apollonius engages in libanomancy, a method of divination using incense smoke (text from Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus). Learn more about frankincense as it relates to ancient Greek religion on Hellenic Gods

Aesop’s Fables Online Collection includes a search engine that allows users to find content based on specific words, themes or terms. The list of Aesop's fables is alphabetically sorted (in four sections) which isn't the case on many sites focused on Aesop’s Fables. The site lists 655+ fables and is regularly updated. 

English translation of the two fables referenced in this article by Reverend George Fyler Townsend. 

Glass Petal Smoke highly recommends purchasing incense resins from Katlyn Breen of Mermade Magickal Arts and Dan Riegler of Apothecary's Garden. Both vendors sell quality incense materials and make their own aromatic products. 

Image of Frankincense (Boswellia sacra) from Dhofar by Michelle Krell Kydd. All rights reserved. 

Image of "Portrait of a Crow" by Carl T. Bergstrom via Flicker Creative Commons, some rights reserved. 

Image of a anterior leg - mole hand of a European mole (Talpa europaea) by Didier Descouens - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Baking with Flavor: Persian Orange Blossom Cookies

Persian Orange Blossom Cookies are one of Glass Petal Smoke's signature cookies. Food grade essential oil of neroli and orange zest infuse the pastry, which is accented by a flourish of apricot jam and a smattering of pistachio nuts. The result is an intoxicating pastry that delights the senses before, during and after baking.

The pastry base for Persian Orange Blossom Cookies is modeled after classic thumbprint cookies, but the flavor is decidedly Middle Eastern (and Italian by Moorish influence). You'll be dreaming up fragrant combinations of your own after you taste them. Go forth, be bold and bake with flavor!

Persian Orange Blossom Cookies
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd 
Yield:  2 1/2 dozen cookies

• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 cup sweet unsalted butter, softened*
• 1/3 cup granulated sugar
• 2 eggs, separated
• 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
• 2 teaspoons vanilla
• 2 teaspoons orange flower water (or 6 drops organic Neroli essential oil)
• zest from one medium orange (organic)
• 1/3 cup apricot jam
• 3/4 cup chopped pistachios, lightly toasted
* The butter can be microwaved on a low setting for 60 seconds or less. You need to “soften” the butter versus liquefying it. 

• Zest the orange skin and set aside.
• In a large bowl, sift flour and salt.
• Separate yolks from egg whites.
• Place egg whites in a sealable bowl and refrigerate.
• Mix sugar into the egg yolks and set aside.
• Mix vanilla, orange flower water (or food grade neroli oil) and butter.
• Add egg yolks to the fragranced butter and mix well.
• Add wet ingredients (with the exception of refrigerated egg whites) to the dry ones and incorporate.
• Divide the dough into two halves, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
• Lightly toast chopped pistachios, in a non-stick skillet for approximately five minutes. You’ll notice an earthy, woody scent when they are done (they should still be green).
• Place nuts in a bowl to cool.
• Line two cookie pans with parchment paper and set aside.
• Place apricot preserves into a small bowl and set aside.
• Remove chilled dough from the refrigerator.
• Take out egg whites and add almond extract, mixing with a fork until blended. Set aside.
• Roll small, one-inch balls of dough and lightly flatten them.
• Preheat oven to 375 degrees, dividing racks into thirds.
• Dip the top of the flattened dough ball into egg whites, followed by a light dipping in the chopped pistachios.
• Place the cookie on the baking tray and lightly dent the center with a fingertip (thumb or index finger). The idea is to create a place for the jelly to rest.
• Once all of the cookies have been made, carefully dole out a bit of jam (1/4 tsp. or less) and place it in the center of the cookie. You’ll want to use less than one-quarter teaspoon as the jelly will spread slightly when heated in the oven.
• Bake for 12 minutes, reversing sheets from top to bottom and back to front after first 6 minutes. The cookies should be barely colored on the sides and slightly darker along the edges.
• Wait 10 minutes and transfer to a cookie rack and allow to cool.
• Store cookies in an airtight container, separating each layer with wax or parchment paper so the cookies don’t stick to each other.

The flavors in Persian Orange Blossom Cookies meld beautifully a day after the cookies are baked. That shouldn't stop you from eating them on the day they're made. They're wonderful with black tea or coffee (Turkish coffee or espresso are highly recommended).

Use your imagination and think about delicious flavors you've tasted in the past that you'd like to introduce to your baking repertoire. Consider the use of supporting extracts and floral hydrosols (aka floral waters) where appropriate. A ginger oil/lemon zest/vanilla extract pastry base, with a finish of slivered toasted almonds and Mediterranean green fig jam, tempts Glass Petal Smoke.

Hydrosols are distilled essences of plants used to flavor food. Rose water or kewra water (screwpine) are examples and work well with complementary combinations of extracts, nuts and jam. You can find them in Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores. For food grade essential oils like bergamot (used to flavor Earl Grey Tea) visit LorAnn Oils' website.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Baking with Flavor: Recipe for Semolina Spice Cake

The crumb structure in Semolina Spice Cake resembles tiny interlaced flowers. Zoom into the image and see if you can find a few cakey flower heads. The center of the these crumbs looks like a circle of air—just like the flowers on the dessert plate.

Semolina cake soaked in sweet syrup tastes divine, but an equally delicious and less sugary alternative exists. A pastry base that accommodates complementary spice mixtures, in combination with flavor extracts and citrus zest, gets the job done. Want to know a secret? You don't have to be a professional pastry chef to master baking with flavor.

The building blocks for the structure of a healthy and tasty semolina cake are: semolina flour, coconut sugar, lowfat yogurt, eggs, all-purpose flour, vegetable oil, baking soda, baking powder and sea salt. Extracts, citrus zest and warm spice mixtures shape flavor. This is where you can be fearlessly creative and try something new.

The more you bake the more you understand the character of ingredients separately and in combination. This builds confidence and an unquantifiable aspect—a baker's personal essence. Have you ever tasted a cookie baked by two different people using the same recipe and noticed they were similar yet distinct? You can taste the je ne sais quoi.

Baking with flavor happens when you immerse all of your senses in the process. Focus on what you see, smell, touch, hear and taste along the way. Semolina Spice Cake is delicious and inspiring to make. Be sure to share the recipe with friends and family so they can put their own spin on a healthy cake that quickly disappears after it's made.

Semolina Spice Cake
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
Serves nine people

  • 1 cup semolina flour 
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
  • ½ cup coconut sugar 
  • 1½ cup of plain 1% fat yogurt (nonfat is fine)
  • 1 medium organic lemon (zest only)
  • ½ cup neutral vegetable with a high smoke point (avocado oil or canola)
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature 
  • 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon Hashems Ka’ak Spice
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder 
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt 
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  • Prep an 8x8 non-stick baking pan with vegetable oil and set aside. 
  • Combine the lemon zest and yogurt in a bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes. 
  • Measure and combine semolina flour, all-purpose flour, Ka’ak Spice, baking soda and sea salt into a large mixing bowl. Mix everything together using a silicone spatula. 
  • Beat eggs and vanilla in a medium sized mixing bowl using a fork. Add coconut sugar and combine until the sugar is completely dissolved. 
  • Add vegetable oil and lemon infused yogurt to the egg mixture and incorporate using a silicone spatula. 
  • Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix until the batter is smooth (no lumps).
  • Pour the batter into the pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Test for doneness by using a toothpick inserted in the center of the pan (it's done when the toothpick comes out clean). 
  • Allow the cake to cool for 30 minutes. 
  • Slice into nine pieces using two vertical and two horizontal cuts. 
  • Serve with a side of maple syrup sweetened yogurt (the same yogurt you used to make the cake) or a pair of Medjool dates and fresh walnuts. 
  • Store the cake in a sealed container in the refrigerator. This cake also freezes well.
This recipe can be modified with your favorite warm spice blend. Chinese Five Spice, Gingerbread Spice, Apple Pie Spice, Pumpkin Pie Spice, etc. These require less than 1 tbsp+ 1 tsp of your spice blend of choice. Use 1 tbsp and refrigerate the cake for 24 hours. Citrus zest isn’t necessary, though a tablespoon of orange zest would be nice with Gingerbread Spice as this would resemble lebkuchen.

Ka’ak Spice Mix contains anise, cloves, cinnamon, mahlab, sesame seeds and black caraway. Grind the spice mix in a coffee grinder to ensure uniform texture and release flavor if the blend appears slightly coarse or has whole seeds in it.

The anise in Ka’ak Spice Mix has a sweet aftertaste so this spice mix is ideal for flavoring semolina cake that doesn't require the addition of sugar syrup. Extra vanilla extract in the recipe balances the anise so the overall effect is cakey. (The combination of anise, vanilla and lemon smells like bakeries I remember from childhood).

Oil-based semolina cakes are moist and have a spongier quality of density than cakes made with unbleached all-purpose flour (you can see it in the structure and separation of the crumb). The way semolina cake melts in the mouth increases retronasal olfaction (the intersection of smell and taste that produces flavor at the back of the mouth). Pour a tablespoon of warm maple syrup over a freshly baked slice and take a bite. Notice the mouthfeel (texture) and how this shapes flavor perception.

Feel free to try other warm spice mixtures (e.g. gingerbread, pumpkin pie, apple pie) and experimenting with complementary citrus flavors and extracts. Floral waters like rosewater and orange blossom water can be used like extracts. The possibilities are endless.

Glass Petal Smoke developed a cookie recipe using Hashems Ka'ak Spice. You can find it here

Saturday, April 18, 2020

COVID-19 & Smell Loss: The Case for Critical Thinking

Sniffing out the truth regarding smell loss requires critical thinking.

When we skim the surface of a news story we risk indifference to the facts. Goldman Sachs allegedly believes that a post-peak reduction in "loss of smell" inquiries on Google Search is "a positive sign for the pandemic" (language embedded in CNBC's hyperlink to the news story). Is this a fact, opinion or clickbait? You need to be a critical thinking ninja to figure it out.

Smell loss and the return of the sense of smell is not a linear process independent of COVID-19 infection. Dr. Eric Holbrook's description in the Harvard Health Blog clarifies this in a pre-COVID-19 perspective of the world as it relates to smell loss:
In some cases, the loss of smell is complete (anosmia), while in other cases there is only a partial loss (hyposmia). In many instances where smell loss occurs, remaining smells are distorted. The distortions are either experienced as odors smelling dramatically different from what was remembered (parosmia) or smelling an odor that isn’t present (phantosmia).                                                      —"Smell Disorders: When Your Sense of Smell Goes Astray," (December 12, 2018)
The first disconnect in "Goldman Says Fewer ‘Loss of Smell’ Google Queries Suggest Better COVID Outlook" is the image used in the article. The caption reads, “A woman wearing a face mask smells flower blossoms.” Let’s put a pandemic perspective on the image because what the caption says and what appears in the picture are slightly different.

A woman wearing a non-medical protective face mask has drawn her mask below her nostrils so she can smell cherry blossoms. The woman will have to touch her face a second time to pull the mask over her nose so it can protect her (assuming it wasn't contaminated the first time she moved it below her nostrils).

Critical thinking begins when we question our perceptions.

Were there other people who smelled the same cherry blossoms before her? Will there be others afterwards? What does that means regarding potential virus transfer? Was the image taken during the pandemic? If it was, where was the photographer? The image that accompanies the article doesn't follow COVID-19 protocol. Strike one.

The picture gets your attention for the wrong reason. It riffs on the desire for post-pandemic normality. This may fuel irrational forecasts on lifting quarantines before science says it's the right time because of the way the picture looks. Strike two.

Let’s revisit the prediction of an organization asserting an opinion that isn't based on the relationship between COVID-19 and smell loss in a controlled study (e.g. the use of Google Trends). It's important to note that CNBC emphasizes this opinion more than Jon Hatzius of Goldman Sachs does when you watch the video embedded in the article.

Goldman Sachs is an American multinational investment bank and financial services company. Is their intention to report news or promote data that encourages investor confidence because it supports their business model? This is the kind of question a critical thinking ninja asks (a recent article on Poynter calls it "growing a third nostril" to sniff out the truth).

Wake up and smell the facts, including opinions masquerading as facts.

Goldman Sachs used one phrase (loss of smell) to generate an outcome on Google Trends. Anyone can use this tool, which provides results based on the country in which a query is made. Anosmia, hyposmia, parosmia and phantosmia aren’t included in the analysis and there are additional words and phrases that can be used to gather results regarding smell loss.

Smell training, which supports patients with smell loss, isn't even investigated and it's an approach supported by scientific research that helps patients with smell loss (lemon, rose, clove and eucalyptus essential oil are commonly used, which is informed by research). That's not a surprise because most of the population knows little about smell and taste disorders and what it's like for patients.

The article referenced in this post appears on CNBC, which is a news source specializing in financial markets. The deduction made by Goldman Sachs doesn’t include expert opinions from scientists as well and multiple points of view. There's nothing “fair and balanced" about it. Strike three (you can S-M-E-L-L it).

Critical thinking is important. It applies to opinions you agree and disagree with when chasing down facts to create an informed opinion. If you believe that people who don't think the way you do are ignorant, check yourself because the ultimate in ignorance is the inability to respectfully weigh facts and opinions. It's how you lie to yourself and others because of what you want to believe. There's another word for this and it's denial. Denial is also a stage of grief and grief is a collective experience during a pandemic like COVID-19.

These are difficult and highly emotional times for everyone. It's tempting to create divisiveness based on personal opinion or that of your pack, but searching for truth and call out misleading statements in your own head helps manage the effects of the pandemic on physical and mental health—your own and that of family, friends and your community. There will be PTSD echo effects when the pandemic is under control and when a cure for COVID-19 is found. The time to build better habits that support clear thinking and common humanity is now.

Smell the May roses at a distance with gratitude and a face mask.

Think before, during after interacting with media. Most importantly, think before you speak (or in the case of the CNBC article, publish a story). Practice being a critical thinking ninja on a daily basis. If you're one of the lucky ones who survive the first cycle of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, you might smell the roses in May. Just remember to catch the scent of roses in the breeze and keep your protective face mask on as required.

Some people who contract COVID-19 and become anosmic say they can't taste (ageusia). They may be misarticulating their symptoms without knowing it. I've come across this in off-the-record interviews with people who've had mild symptoms of COVID-19 that presented with smell loss. I am continuing to investigate this.

Smell + Taste = Flavor and we often refer to flavor as taste (e.g. "that tastes delicious"). Taste is sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (savory) as well as trigeminal sensations for temperature, texture and spiciness.

If we want to understand patients who lose their sense of smell and/or taste because of COVID-19 we have to go below the surface of what they're saying and ask clarifying questions. This is a doctor's job, but it's also a scientist's job and it's why medical professionals and scientists need to be included in articles that reference medical conditions.