Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pandanus Flower: Flavor for the New Year

Floral flavors have a tendency to jar unfamiliar palates, but for those who adore the voluptuous freshness that floral ingredients add to food, pandanus flower may prove a most enticing find.

Pandanus flower, also known as kewra, is the male flower of the pandanus plant (Pandanus odoratissimus). The distillate made from kewra petals offers an intriguing level of complexity not found in rose or orange blossom waters. Unlike the pandanus leaf (Pandanus amaryllifolius), a close relative with a lactonic, rice-like flavor, kewra bears the fragrant markings of rose, musk, sandalwood and champaca. Kewra water is commonly used in milk-based Indian sweets such as ras gulla, gulab majun, ras mala, and kheer as well as rice dishes like biryani.

New flavors are best experienced in simplicity. This provides psychological space for experimentation and lessens the discomfort one may occasionally anticipate when being introduced to a new flavor (this reaction is completely normal and deeply ingrained in our instinct for self-preservation and the avoidance of poisons). In an effort to properly introduce pandanus flower to the taste buds I’ve developed a recipe for a warm breakfast cereal that balances kewra with familiar ingredients. Should kewra overwhelm your palate, you can decrease the amount of floral water or utilize recommended substitutions* as the cereal is highly nutritious and extremely beneficial for hair and skin in cold winter months. As an added benefit, the recipe is gluten-free.

The New Year provides many opportunities for growth and discovery. May your bounty include novel flavor experiences infused with inspiration and wonder.

Kewra Comfort
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
(Serves 2)

Ingredients:
· ¼ Bob’s Red Mill® Organic Brown Rice Farina (Creamy Rice Hot Cereal)
· ¼ cup Bob’s Red Mill® Organic Golden Flaxseed Meal
· ¼ cup Bob’s Red Mill® Organic Almond Meal
· 2 jumbo Medjool dates, chopped
· ⅛ tsp. ground cardamom
· 10 ounces of water
· ½ tsp. kewra water

Instructions:
· Mix dry ingredients together and add water. Stir thoroughly and allow to rest for three minutes.
· Chop Medjool dates and add to mixture.
· Add kewra water and stir.
· Microwave for four minutes.
· Remove from microwave and allow to rest for an additional three minutes.
· Mix warm cereal until the consistency is uniform throughout.
· Serve in two small serving bowls.

*To change the flavor of the cereal, eliminate cardamom and kewra and utilize one of the following three combinations of ingredients:

· ½ tsp. rosewater * ⅛ tsp. China cassia cinnamon * ½ tsp. Tahitian vanilla
· ½ tsp. orange blossom water * ½ tsp. cardamom
· ½ tsp. rosewater * ¼ tsp. almond extract * ⅛ tsp. cardamom * pinch of saffron

Notes:
Ahmed® brand kewra water may be purchased online from Kalustyan’s. Swad® is a terrific brand and though it is not sold at Kalustyan’s, may be found at a variety of Indian groceries.

Bob’s Red Mill® organic grains and nut meals are available at Whole Foods and select health food stores. Bob’s has an online store finder so you can find a local purveyor.

Screw pine, kewda, ketaki and keora are other names associated with the pandanus flower.

Vidyakara, an 11th century Buddhist monk, wrote a poem in which the pandanus flower appears. The bloom is called by its Sanskrit name—ketaki:

A cloth of darkness inlaid with fireflies;
flashes of lightning;
the mighty cloud mass guessed at from the roll of thunder;
a trumpeting of elephants;
an east wind scented by opening buds of ketaki,
and falling rain:
I know not how a man can bear the nights that hold all these,
when separated from his love.

The poem appears in Sanskrit Poetry from Vidyakara's Treasury, translated by Daniel H. H. Ingalls. It is available online at Amazon.com.

Photo of kewda flower from Mumbai Magic.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Diane Haska: The Caron Boutique's Christmas Cupid













It’s a cold Friday afternoon in New York City, remnants of the previous day’s snowfall moistening sidewalks and streets. The neighborhood is bustling with determined shoppers scurrying along a stretch of Lexington Avenue between 56th and 60th Streets. Wisconsin natives Dr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Hollander step out of the crowd and enter the Caron Boutique. The air between them is perfumed with a touch of playfulness and a quality of warmth that noticeably emanates from their eyes. A luxurious and fragrant pre-holiday ritual is about to begin and boutique manager Diane Haska has quickly rendered her gilded bow and arrow invisible—leaving the rest of the magic to the contents of the boutique’s Baccarat perfume urns, which patiently await the seasonal visit of the Hollanders.

Dr. Jeffrey Hollander is a professional pianist whose mentor was György Sándor. Sándor, who was famous in his own right, studied under the tutelage of renowned Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. Hollander reconnected with Sándor at the urging of his wife Elaine, who while viewing a PBS broadcast of The Art of Piano - Great Pianists of 20th Century discovered that Sándor was living in New York City. The three would then meet whenever the Hollanders were in town. Trips to the Caron Boutique were part of subsequent get-togethers and Sándor found himself equally partial to Caron Pour Un Homme and Diane Haska, who he referred to as “the lovely woman of the perfume shop.”

When it comes to selling fragrance, Diane’s approach has a level of depth and caring that is not often experienced in traditional retail settings. The fact that she is situated in a boutique filled with time-honored classics infuses her approach with the charm of heritage. Her passion for people and the melding of their personal stories with the stories of Caron’s perfumes make her a sublime conduit for the art of perfumery. Haska describes her approach in a soothing voice marked by rich elocution, “When I first meet a customer, I will ask them what they have worn, what they can’t live without and how their tastes have evolved over time. We walk through the fragrance process together and explore several Caron scents to see which one best suits them. I gauge their reactions to the blotters to see how they respond to levels of spice and floralcy and it gets to a point where I can just look at someone and tell what fits. The process is very intuitive.”

The Hollanders rely on Haska’s fragrance expertise when it comes to choosing gifts for each other. The couple plays what Elaine Hollander refers to as “a little game.” They go about the boutique inquiring of specific items and when they’re through, share their personal favorites with each other. When concurrence is reached each one speaks with Diane in private and arranges for the gifts to be shipped to their home in time for Christmas.

Jeffrey is always the one who answers the door when the parcels arrive. “Elaine thinks that Diane purposefully arranges to have the packages delivered when she is not home, but it just seems to be the way it works out each and every year.” says Jeffrey, who enjoys wearing Le 3ème Homme. Elaine, whose favorites include Infini, Muguet Du Bonheur and Violet Précieuse, is just as enamored of French fragrances as she is of Diane, “When it comes to American fragrances the refinement just isn’t there. I enjoy the beautiful Baccarat crystal bottles and packaging as much as I do the perfume that fills them. Then there’s Diane. She positively sparkles and has so much joy for what she does.”

The Hollanders’ gift selections are especially sentimental as the couple became engaged on Christmas Eve of 1998. It is the second marriage for each of them and love the second time around has proved to be true love. “It’s hard to explain, but when I first met Jeffrey it was as if I had met my soul mate, like I had known him forever.” says Elaine. The Hollanders, who are seated opposite each other in the boutique’s parlor area, look at each other and smile, their eyes glinting beneath similarly bespectacled faces. After spending over an hour with Diane, Jeffrey and Elaine say their goodbyes and promise to return in the spring, when they will once again play their fragrant game of love.

Notes:

Mrs. Hollander was partial to a limited edition Tabac Blond Coffret (available in a numbered series of 150). The Baccarat flacon holds 45 ml. of perfume and is housed in a luxurious wooden box. The collectible retails for $2000.

To make an appointment with the Caron Boutique's Diane Haska call 212-308-0270. Caron’s fragrances are available in packaged form or may be drammed from the boutique's urns. Silk ties and shawls are also available in-store. Phone orders may be placed at 1-877-88CARON. The Caron Boutique is located at 715 Lexington Avenue (at the corner of 58th Street) in New York City and is easily reached via the 4, 5, 6, N, R and W trains (59th Street station).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Holiday Exquisitries: A Sensualist’s Gift Guide


There is a unique exchange that takes place between sensory object and self. In a single moment the ordinary becomes transcendent and deep connections are made. Time disappears as boundaries melt away and essences merge; a quality one finds in physical or spiritual love. Sensualists live vicariously through their senses and their ability to connect with beauty in such a passionate manner requires the utmost in skill and discrimination. Buying gifts for these individuals requires thoughtfulness and care. Forgo the faux and indulge in holiday exquisitries that stimulate the senses.

TASTE…

Oliviers & Co. Olive Oil with Bergamot
More commonly recognized as an aromatic impression in tea than by name, bergamot is truly “the little orange that could.” Oil expressed from the Citrus bergamia peel imparts an uplifting quality when used as a top note in perfumery and is prominently featured in Earl Grey tea, known the world over for its revitalizing scent.

Oliviers & Co. has infused one of its olive oils with bergamot and the result is an interesting balance of bright citrus, soft green and subtle floral notes (in that order). Recommended use for Oliviers & Co. Olive Oil with Bergamot includes; shrimp & avocado salad, grated carrot salad, grilled scallops, chicken, lamb, green been salad, Greek salad, pasta, sautéed leeks, vinaigrettes, fruit salad and vanilla ice cream.

Prior to becoming White House Executive Pastry Chef, Bill Yosses created an Olive Oil and Bergamot Fleur de Sel Cake at the 2006 “Worlds of Flavor Baking & Pastry Arts Invitational Retreat,” at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus. The fact that oil is one of the chief ingredients in chiffon cake suggests that experimentation with Oliviers & Co. Olive Oil with Bergamot could lead to delightful discoveries. Earl Grey chocolate layer cake with cream cheese icing would be an indulgent start. Retail Price: $19.50 for 8.4 fl oz.

Dark Chocolate with White Pepper and Cardamom Bar, by Dolfin
Dolfin has a history of flavoring dark chocolate bars with interesting essences, but many of their dark chocolate bars are simply too sweet. Though the exact percentage of cocoa mass is not stated on their Dark Chocolate with White Pepper and Cardamom Bar, taste and mouth feel indicate a percentage of 65% or higher. The heat of white pepper is gentler than its fiery red cousin, but its kick exhilarates taste buds like a refreshing flurry of snowflakes. Cardamom’s camphorous tendencies dissolve, delivering an impression that is decidedly rich and spicy. Small 30 gram bars are sold at Oren’s Daily Roast coffee chains in New York City and at $2.50 a pop, are completely irresistible. The bars, part of Dolfin’s Saveurs du Monde line, are available in packs of five on Amazon.com and priced are at $10.25.

TOUCH…

Darphin Aromatic Hand Cream
According to Virginia Bonofiglio, adjunct professor of cosmetics and fragrance marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology, most women’s hand creams are formulated with a white floral aldehydic scent. This would explain the generic olfactive memory one has when recalling the hand creams our mothers and grandmothers used (with the exception of Jergen’s Original Scent, which still includes addictive cherry and almond notes). Darphin products were originally showcased in spas and the brand’s “treatment” heritage has infused Darphin Aromatic Hand Cream with a more complex level of fragrancing. The platform is decidedly floral and vaguely aldehydic, but the way the scent blooms on skin melds traditional and modern freshness à la Jean-Charles Brousseau's Ombre Rose. Darphin Aromatic Hand Cream is so beautiful it could single-handedly revive the tradition of hand kissing. Retail price: $35.00.

Perfume-Filled Poison Rings by Ayala Moriel
To say that Smellyblog editor Ayala Moriel is obsessed with natural raw materials would be an understatement; her spirit is positively charged with an abiding respect for the history of perfumery in the natural realm. Her formulas are smooth, rarely jagged (an issue with many “natural” perfumes) and ingrained with beauty, humor and mysticism.

Moriel’s love of poison rings began with an Aztec poison ring her grandmother wore (a gift from Moriel’s grandfather, after one of several business trips he made to South America). In the past, one would conceal poison in the ring chamber as a means of protection from enemies. In Moriel’s hands, poison rings conceal solid crafted fragrances which can be applied to skin at leisure. The addition of the sense of touch to the fragrance experience is a magnificent pleasure indeed.

Price: $55-$100, depending on the particular ring (some are vintage and some are collector’s items). Shipping is $10, including insurance.

SMELL…

Histoire de Chypre (Aedes de Venustas/Molinard)
For over 12 years, fragrance connoisseurs seeking unique artisan fragrances have turned to Aedes de Venustas, a renowned perfumery boutique in New York’s West Village. Owners Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner are extremely particular regarding pedigree and quality, so it’s no surprise that when the idea of designing an exclusive fragrance for the boutique came about, a perfumer found them.

Perfumer Dominique Camilli’s access to the Molinard archives, along with subsequent collaborations with Braidl and Gerstner, has resulted in Histoire de Chypre, a carefully crafted homage to a genre started by François Coty in 1917. Histoire de Chypre begins with refreshing notes of Bergamot, Mandarin, Neroli, Jasmine and Galbanum, and moves into an addictive heart of Jasmine, Bulgarian Rose, Osmanthus and Iris. The Patchouli, Oakmoss, Musk and Amber dry down is très chypre, lacking the aged quality one may sometimes find in this historical fragrance category. Histoire de Chypre (Eau de Parfum) is exclusive to Aedes de Venustas and is priced at $225 for a 3.4 oz. bottle (which is, incidentally, made of Lalique glass). The product may be ordered online or by calling 1-888-AEDES15.

SEE…

Lipstick Queen in Rouge Sinner
In the medium of lipstick, red is the ultimate color of seduction. The color of fire and blood, red turns heads with a quality of visibility that makes objects seem closer than they appear to be; a bona fide fact in color theory. In the world of lipstick, red can be a difficult color to wear. If the shade is not matched properly to natural lip color and skin tone, the effects can be clown-like or tawdry, which often keeps women from pursuing the joys of this pigmented provocateur.

Enter color maven Poppy King, whose name is synonymous with lipstick. “The best way to know if a red is right for you is to identify whether it is a blue-based red (one that is a little on the pink side) or a yellow-based red (one that is a little on the orange or clear side). “Getting over the fear of red lipstick starts with toning down eye makeup,” says King. “A woman knows if she has found the right red by looking at three key features, eyes, skin and hair, and seeing if these features have come alive and look illuminated with [the addition of] color.”

Lipstick Queen in Rouge Sinner is a shade of red that looks great on nearly every woman. The association of red with holidays and special occasions makes this the perfect time of year to indulge the senses with a terrific red lipstick. A less pigmented version of “rouge” is available in Lipstick Queen’s “Saint” line, which goes on like a lip stain, but is replete with moisture. Lipsticks are priced at $18.00 and are available at Barney’s.

Irene Suchocki Photography
Canadian Irene Suchocki is a self-taught photographer whose evocative work blurs wakingEtsy.com.
boundaries and catapults the viewer straight into a dream world. “Fireweed,” a photo featured in the gallery marked “Through the Viewfinder” uses pink and sepia tones to illustrate a field of fireweed flowers. Remarkably astute, Suchocki gives equal weight to what is in and out of focus, resulting in photographs with multilayered facets that are not unlike a beautifully constructed fine fragrance. Unmatted and unframed prints are available in matte and metallic finishes, ranging from $35 to $155. Suchocki’s work is also featured on

HEAR…
Le Pas du Chat Noir by Anouar Brahem
The “oud” is a an instrument used in the Middle East and East Africa, and is equivalent to a fretless lute (not to be confused with the hypnotic raw material which makes Tom Ford Oud Wood the equivalent of an aphrodisiac in a bottle). Anouar Brahem is a Tunisian oud player whose music is a mélange of classical Arabic music, folk and jazz, (think a very mellow Astor Piazzolla, resorting to minimalism and floating on a carpet of butterflies over the Mediterranean). Le Pas du Chat Noir (which means "the path of the black cat’s footsteps") soothes the senses with a quality of auditory spaciousness that literally gives one room to breathe—a well-deserved respite from pre-holiday harriedness.

Note:
Photo of "Sunflower" fractal from The Lunar Archives.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

In Search of a Cookie (Part Two): Cuccidati Revealed


















A week after John and I discover pastry bliss at Bruno's, I find myself thinking about his cemetery visit and the direction it is taking both of us. Determined, bleary-eyed and under-caffeinated, I enter Antoinette’s Patisserie in search of a drink dubbed the Euro; a magnificent beverage based upon cappuccino served in Italy. The Euro is smaller than its American cousin and the milk is steamed to scalding, breaking down the sugars and eliminating any need for sweetener.

Chef Antoinette Beham and I have become good friends over the years as we share a mutual love of artisanal baking. When I enter the patisserie, she calls me into the back of the kitchen and I accept her invitation with anticipation. I greet Antoinette, a petite woman with soft brown eyes and a large cake knife in her hands, and am requested to taste two cuttings of cake she has designed for a wedding. I am not told what I will taste with purpose; Antoinette is using my skills as a professional “nose” and gourmand to evaluate the creations. Since I am a sucker for dessert and she has a knife, I willingly oblige.

The first cake is positively decadent—three layers of syrup-infused sponge dressed in white chocolate mousse. I enjoy the textures and mouth feel, but there is not enough contrast in the arrangement of flavors. The next cake looks similar, but the taste is out of this world. It is a refreshing lemon mousse layer cake that is built upon the same structure as the previous cake, but the contrast of refreshing lemon, cream and cake is the equivalent of shiatsu on my taste buds. Three bites and I am invigorated with sugar joy.

“I am not particularly fond of the white mousse cake and I’ve tried to tell the customer that white chocolate mousse is better with something strong, like dark chocolate cake,” says Antoinette. I agree, adding that white chocolate is not true chocolate, a subject for future culinary debate. I begin to tell her about John’s cookie quest and her eyes light up. She calls for her sister, Tina, who also works in the store. “You’re friend is Sicilian, isn’t he?” Antoinette asks, her intonation indicating that she already knows the answer, being half Italian herself. “Yes he is,” I reply. “We went to Rocco’s and Bruno’s in the city and couldn’t find the cookie.” Antoinette looks at Tina and smiles. It is evident that they have had this cookie or at the very least, are familiar with its spirit.

Antoinette, a former pastry chef at Le Cirque, stops to think and says “I know that cookie. It’s probably one of those cookies that someone’s grandmother made in Sicily, maybe a holiday cookie with Italian mincemeat, like a pierogi that has been sliced. It’s not mustazzouli, but I’m not sure what it is called. Those kinds of cookies don’t get into bakeries like canoli. It’s funny. I have been thinking about them for the past week and want to make them myself.” The next day I return for coffee and strike up another conversation with Antoinette. She reflects on her days as a student at The Culinary Institute of America and a research assignment she had to do on the subject of walnuts. “You know, you discover all kinds of interesting and odd facts when you go to the library to do food research.” That evening I raid Google with the resolve of a bloodhound. “Okay, think. Search smarter,” I tell myself. Then I type the magic words, “Sicilian baking.” Jackpot.

Anna Maria Volpe is an Italian chef with Roman and Sicilian roots. Her website has a variety of recipes and in the dessert section there is a Sicilian fig cookie called cuccidati (also known as buccellati). She has taken Chef Nick Malgieri’s recipe for cuccidati and adapted it to suit her taste, (I have done the same with ma’amoul, adding homemade Tahitian vanilla extract and China cassia cinnamon to the date paste mixture). I call John at 9:30 p.m. “I think I found your cookie, but I’m not sure.” I do my best to pronounce the names in Italian, reading the filling ingredients one by one. “So what do you think?” I ask him. “It sure sounds like it, especially the spicy part,” he says, his smile evident over the phone line. We decide to see if De Robertis Caffe in the East Village sells cuccidati.

It’s a strange autumn day in October. Rain showers drift in and out like cranky baby tears, pealing with sunshine one moment and bawling rain the next. John and I are walking east on 14th Street, towards the café. As we pass Veniero’s, John tells me that the De Robertis Caffe's history spans four generations and that many of the Italian bakeries in the area are now run by families of Arabic descent. Opened in 1904, De Robertis occupies the same New York City block that it did at its inception. John’s mother grew up in the area and it is one of the reasons we have decided to explore its desserts. It turns out that De Robertis doesn’t sell cuccidati, but Joseph, one of the managers, tells us that the cookie is sold in December. We’re so close, but will be required to cultivate patience for at least two months.

The following week I meet with Antoinette and she suggests I look for a more authentic recipe than the one Volpe has re-orchestrated. That evening I find a cuccidati recipe by Marianne Esposito which appears to be genuine, but there is no “ah-hah” moment. Volpe’s recipe stands out as it resonates strongly with John’s memory of what he tasted. I’ve seen Ms. Esposito’s programs on public television and she eagerly seeks Sicilian recipes that are faithful to tradition. I come to the conclusion that John’s cuccidati is slightly Americanized. The pursuit of the cookie is put on hold as I prepare to fly to Chicago the next day. Unbeknownst to me, the spirit of Beppina is getting restless.

While in Chicago I have the luxury of spending two hours alone on Michigan Avenue, following a day of tedious business meetings. After a bit of window shopping I find myself craving coffee, but refuse to find solace in a plethora of Starbuck’s that populate the neighborhood. I was about to give up and go back to the Westin Hotel when I passed by the John Hancock building and discovered a food court on the lower level.

I venture inside L’Appetito, an Italian café and deli, and stand on the coffee queue. When I get to the cashier I notice a pastry case and am immediately struck by a tray of cookies that look like the cuccidati on Anna Marie Volpe’s website (the sprinkles were a dead giveaway). I ask for a half dozen and head for my hotel room. Once inside, I sit at a desk and carefully remove two cookies which are wrapped in a piece of transparent waxed paper inside the bag. The gustative recognition is instant; every taste that John had described is inside these cookies; the small bits of chocolate, orange peel, traces of clove, fig paste, and hints of an espresso effect.

I call John and tell him what I’ve found. It isn’t even December, but there are cuccidati in Chicago. The other four cookies never make it back to New York. I eat them on the plane ride home, 20,000 feet above the ground, winking at Beppina in the clouds…

Notes:

Anna Marie Volpe’s recipe for cuccidati (complete with demonstration photos) can be found here. Her recipe is a dead ringer for the cuccidati at L’Appetito. I’ve made these a few times and prefer to omit the sprinkles.

Antoinette's Patisserie is located in Hastings on Hudson, a quaint village in Westchester. A 40 minute ride on the Metro North (Hudson line) will take you from Grand Central Terminal into the village of Hastings. The ride is extraordinarily scenic with impressive views of the Palisades on the western side of the river. The patisserie is a ten minute walk from the station.

Part one of this story can be found here

Photo of cuccidati from Baking Delights.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

In Search of a Cookie (Part One): Ma'amoul














John is thinking about his childhood. He removes a cigarette from a burgundy box of Dunhill’s® and holds it between his lips. His callused thumb runs against the starter, the metallic snap narrating a spark as it turns into a flame. The end of the cigarette glows and momentarily fades to black, flecked with gray and white ashes that quietly drop off. He takes a long and thoughtful drag, followed by an exhalation of smoke perfumed with nostalgia. He is intriguingly pensive, running his hand along the side of his face as if searching for the reason his five o’clock shadow has arrived at three.

John is an American of Sicilian descent, graced with a full head of salt and pepper hair and a marvelous sense of culinary adventure. He is thinking about the rich aromatic meat dishes his mother cooked when he was a boy, during the years his father owned a butcher shop a few blocks away from the United Nations—where we are presently strolling. As a child of Italian immigrants, John was initiated into the world of tripe, brain, kidney, liver and heart, organ meats that today’s “chicken-finger” eating children would sooner retch than relish. He takes another drag from his cigarette after sharing a memory and when he exhales, the smoke dissipates in a gust of October wind, taking the recollection with it.

I’ve known John for over fifteen years. A mutual love of food and fierce passion for coffee and dark chocolate continuously kindle our friendship. On a Friday afternoon, after dining at the Ethiopian Meserkem in the West Village, we decide to head towards Bleecker Street, where a string of Italian bakeries line the street. John has been haunted by the memory of an Italian pastry whose name he cannot recall. He describes it as a cookie filled with a spiced, brown fruit paste made of dates or figs. The mixture contained bits of chocolate, candied orange peel, and perhaps some powdered espresso.

John’s craving began at historic Calvary Cemetery in Queens, while he was visiting his aunt’s grave. After paying respect to his parents, he went to the site where his aunt Alphonsina was buried. He stood across “Beppina’s” grave (a nickname given to her by John’s uncle, Achille) and remembered how he and his family would always bring pastry to her house whenever they dropped by. There was one particular cookie that came to mind, something related to the holidays which became symbolic of these visits. That is when the craving began; “I could taste this cookie as if it was in my mouth,” he says, “and have been thinking about it ever since.”

John’s craving is intense, so a quest for the special cookie begins. We walk down Bleecker Street and enter Rocco’s Pastry Shop and Espresso Café. The cases are filled with an assortment of butter cookies and Italian standbys like biscotti, cannoli, bocconotti, and pignoli nut cookies. There seem to be more tourists than natives in the pastry shop, which is overflowing with Italian kitsch. John scans the dessert cases like a speed reader and clears his throat before announcing, “They’re not here. Let’s try another place down the street.”

We head to Bruno Bakery and discover more variety and color in their pastry displays. John describes the cookie of his childhood to the counter girl, but she is not familiar with what he is recounting. Our eyes are transfixed by several pastries in the form of single-serving cakes with flavors like caramel pear, dulce de leche cheesecake, and chocolate hazelnut mousse. Many other beguiling and mouthwatering treats are meticulously arranged behind the pastry cases, stirring our cravings until there is nothing to do except give in. The air is laden with vanilla, butter and hospitality, so indulging in espresso and dessert seems inevitable and apropos.

Wanting food because you need nourishment is very different from craving something—craving is sparked by the mingling of desire and memory. John’s description of the fruit-filled cookie of his childhood reminds me of ma'amoul. Ma’amoul is a Middle Eastern butter cookie filled with a paste of dates and walnuts. Dates are naturally rich in brown sugar and caramel notes and when combined with the woody and somewhat tannic notes of walnuts, become the perfect foil for character extremes in the individual ingredients which make up the cookie. It is the addition of floral water that lends an indecipherable beauty to ma’amoul, one that is initially exotic, but like any new pleasure, becomes agreeably familiar and increasingly desired when consumed.

I offer to make more ma’amoul for John and he smiles, reminding me that it was the Arabs who brought pine nuts, apricots, figs and dates to Italy, exerting influence on Sicilian baking. He is also quick to add that Catherine de Medici took the Arabic influence to France, when she married King Henry II. “It was the Italians who taught the French to cook,” he teases. The date pastry I offer John begins to feel like a poor substitute for his true craving. I stare at the bottom of my espresso cup haunted and determined; I am going to find this cookie.

[Stay tuned for Part II of this cookie mystery, which will appear in next week's edition of Glass Petal Smoke.]

Ma’amoul
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd

Yield: 56 cookies

Ingredients:
· 3 cups of unbleached, all-purpose flour
· 1 teaspoon baking powder
· ½ teaspoon salt
· ¾ cup sugar
· 1½ sticks of butter (¾ cup)
· 2 large eggs
· 1 teaspoon Tahitian vanilla for the cookie dough
· 1½ teaspoons Chinese cassia cinnamon for the cookie dough
· 2 teaspoons rosewater for the cookie dough
· 1 package of date paste (you’ll need 10 ounces of the 13 ounces in the pack)
· 1 teaspoon Chinese cassia cinnamon (for the date paste)
· 1 teaspoon Tahitian vanilla (for the date paste)
· ¾ cup of chopped walnuts (lightly toasted in a pan and cooled, to bring out the flavor)
· ¼ cup warm water

Equipment:
· 2 cookie trays lined with parchment paper
· sheet of aluminum foil about the size of a cookie tray
· flour sifter
· mixing bowl and spatula
· measuring cups for dry ingredients
· measuring cup for wet ingredients
· two forks
· small bowl for beating eggs and vanilla
· small microwave bowl for butter
· 1¾ inch (in diameter) cookie cutter or jelly glass
· measuring spoons
· rolling pin
· cookie spatula
· plastic wrap for dough

Instructions:
· Toast chopped walnuts over a low flame and remove as soon as they begin to toast lightly (you’ll know by the soft, woody aroma). Allow to cool completely.
. Sift the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and 1½ teaspoons of cinnamon.
· Place butter in a small microwave bowl and microwave for 40 seconds (or until butter grows soft, making sure the butter is soft, not warm). Mix by hand with a fork so the melted and soft sections are blended together.
· In a small bowl, gently beat eggs, rosewater and vanilla. Add this to the butter and mix thoroughly.
· Add wet ingredients to dry and use your hands to form the dough.
· Separate the dough into two balls. Place each on the middle of an 18 inch sheet of plastic wrap. Fold the bottom third of the plastic wrap over the dough and pat down until it forms a 6 inch disc. Bring in the sides of the plastic wrap and fold the remaining top piece over the disc. Refrigerate for 4 hours.
· Fifteen minutes before the dough is ready to be rolled out, prepare the date paste. Put date paste into a small bowl and add warm water. Mix with a fork until the date paste has a malleable consistency that lends itself to filling a teaspoon with ease. If you find any date stems, remove them. Add one teaspoon each of cinnamon and vanilla and mix with a fork. Add crushed walnuts and incorporate.
· Divide the oven rack into thirds and set the temperature at 375 degrees. Allow the oven to heat to full temperature while you are rolling out the cookies, making sure the preparation area is a moderate distance from the oven.
· On a lightly floured surface, roll out a quarter of one of the chilled dough balls, until it is ⅛ inch thick. Cut with a cookie cutter and set on cookie sheet, keeping each cookie about one inch apart. Re-roll scraps, continuing to roll and cut. Use the extra sheet of aluminum foil to set cookie cuttings aside as you may run out of room on your cookie sheets in the preparation stage. (Each dough ball should yield 28 cookie sandwiches.)
· Place one teaspoon of date mixture over half of the cookies and use the remaining cut cookies to cover them. Pick up the sandwiched cookie, pinching and sealing the edges by hand, so the cookie looks like ravioli. Set the cookie back on the tray. Crimp the edges with the tines of a small fork. Prick the tops twice with the fork (the cookies will look like little pies) so that the centers can release heat in the oven while they are baking.
· Continue cutting and filling the cookies until each dough ball is used. When you are done you should have 24 filled cookies on each sheet, and 8 more filled cookies you’ll have to bake when the four dozen are finished.
· Refrigerate all of the ma'amoul for 8-10 minutes. This will allow the butter in the dough to firm up and will ensure that the cookies bake evenly, (the ones you made first will be affected by the room temperature in which they have been resting).
· Place each tray of cookies on a single rack in the oven and bake for 6 minutes. Open the oven and move the top tray to the bottom and the bottom tray to the top, reversing the front and back ends for even baking. Bake for an additional 6 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned.
· Remove cookies from their trays and place on cooling rack for an hour or until completely cooled. Store in an airtight container.

Notes:
There are many variations of the Middle Eastern ma’amoul. Some use orange blossom water or rosewater in the dough. Others use semolina instead of flour. For those who delight in sweetness and presentation, a dusting of confectioner’s sugar is preferred. Some recipes omit eggs and baking powder. This recipe is a winner because the texture of the cookie is enhanced by eggs and leavening.

Ma’amoul taste better the day after they are baked as the moisture in the filling softens the cookie dough. That’s a respectable characteristic for those of us who believe that age improves our unique essence as human beings. One of the things I like best about ma’amoul is that it has a shared history among Arabs and Jews. Perhaps the act of baking these is actually a gesture of peace in itself.

Sources:
For floral waters, date paste and Tahitian vanilla, shop online at Kalustyan’s. Cortes® brand floral waters are highly recommended.

For China cassia cinnamon shop online at Penzey’s Spices.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Saffron: Spice of Ecstasy and Sensory Seduction (with Recipe)

Saffron is a spice that needs no introduction. It infuses whatever it touches with a distinct golden hue, adding an aroma that resembles the commingling of hay, honeyed musk, leather and almonds. To taste saffron is to know how unnecessary words are in the vocabulary of pure joy. From discovery to repeated exposure, the flavor and fragrance of saffron is continuously revelatory, like a great passion that leaves one yearning for more.

A majority of home cooks are familiar with saffron grown in Kashmir and Spain. Kashmir saffron veers towards the woody side of the flavor spectrum whereas the Iranian variety possesses a floral character which lends a fascinating beauty to the spice. Iranian Sargol (pure stigma, the yellow style removed) arouses synesthetic pleasure on sight; the crimson color is so rich that it appears infinite and one can easily imagine the feeling of fine velvet on the tips of the fingers by gazing at it. Combine this with an aroma that defies categorization and you have quite a seductive ingredient at hand.

Aphrodisiac and laughter-inducing qualities have been attributed to saffron in culinary texts and folklore. From a logical perspective, the preciousness of saffron, which is the most expensive spice in the world, would produce happiness in anyone fortunate enough to have access to it. Each saffron crocus has three stigmas and hand cultivation is still the method used to harvest the spice. Unethical hands have been known to adulterate saffron with coloring agents like turmeric and safflower, especially in the powdered state. This fact was not lost on a 15th century German tribunal called the safranschau; they were known for sending saffron adulterers to death by burning at the stake or worse yet, burying the guilty alive with the adulterated saffron they had sold in life—Dark Ages indeed.

The flavor of saffron fully develops once the stigmas are dried. There are three molecules that give saffron its distinct characteristics and they are safranal (aroma), picrocroin (bittersweet flavor) and crocin (coloring agent). Notes of saffron have been used in perfumery, but its use is restricted as the self-governing body known as The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has classified molecules derived from the spice as skin irritants. This has certainly set limits on perfumers, but at the same time has inspired new creations that follow acceptable guidelines. L’Artisan Parfumer’s Safran Troublant is a wonderful execution of such creativity as are various fragrances which use the historic attar of saffron (saffron that is fixed in sandalwood oil) as inspiration.

I was introduced to Iranian Sargol saffron by Thierry Mugler’s Mojdeh Amirvand. I will never forget the day she carefully placed a round container wrapped in violet tissue paper into my hands. With eyes closed I held it to my nose and knew instantly that it was saffron (in retrospect, the violet tissue paper, the exact same color as the crocus sativa flower, was no coincidence). “Saffron will put a smile on your face and make you laugh,” she said, citing folklore from her native Iran. Apparently there is science behind the myth as recent research suggests that crocin and safranal have measurable antidepressant effects, Journal of Ethnopharmacology (2005; 97:281–4).

Saffron is a gorgeous addition to savory dishes like arroz con pollo, bouillabaisse, biryani, paella and risotto, but in sweet pastry and desserts it is worthy of worship. Perfumer Christophe Laudamiel and I discovered an Indian dessert called Badam Halwa at Chennai, a restaurant in New York City. The combination of ground almonds, ghee, sugar and saffron was profoundly haunting and cemented our friendship on the spot. Bois de Jasmin's Victoria Frolova and I happened upon Pongal’s version of the treat and it was after this experience that a recipe was born, Gâteau Baiser De Safran (Saffron Kiss Cake). This cake is best served warm, but there is one caveat; you must share the joy of saffron with those you love (or wish to love), hence the double yield. Enjoy!

Gâteau Baiser De Safran
(Saffron Kiss Cake)
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
Yield: Two Cakes

Ingredients:
· 4 cups Arrowhead Mills® Organic Whole Grain Pastry Flour
· 4 tablespoons Bob’s Red Mill® Ground Flaxseed Meal (blonde)
· 1 cup granulated sugar
· 4 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
· ½ teaspoon baking soda
· ½ teaspoon salt
· 1 teaspoon ground green cardamom (Guatemalan)
· 3 pinches Iranian Sargol saffron (heaping ¼
· 1 tablespoon of pure almond extract
· 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons Cortes® brand rose water
· 5 ounces golden raisins (picked through)
· 2 ½ cups low-fat, “no salt added” buttermilk
· ½ cup grapeseed oil
· 4 large egg whites

Instructions:
· Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
· Infuse saffron in a shot glass with 2 tablespoons warm water for 10 minutes.
· Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add cardamom and flaxseed meal (without sifting) and mix dry ingredients together.
· In a separate bowl, separate egg whites and add rosewater and almond extract. Mix by hand until incorporated.
· In a separate bowl mix buttermilk and saffron infusion, including stigmas.
· Add grapeseed oil to the wet ingredients and mix well by hand. It is important to add the grapeseed oil last as oil seals the stigmas and prevents further color infusion into the wet ingredients.
· Add golden raisins to the liquid mixture.
· Make a well in the bowl with the dry ingredients and combine with wet ingredients, gently folding until everything is mixed.
· Fill two 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ¾ loaf pans and bake for approximately 50 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). The pans should be set on the center oven rack.
· Remove cakes from the oven and allow them to cool on a wire rack.
· Store cakes in the refrigerator. Slices can be served at room temperature or warmed up.

Sources:

Vanilla Saffron Imports sells Iranian Sargol saffron in various sizes. Stick with saffron threads versus the powder. (415) 648-8990

Kalustyan’s sells grapeseed oil, ground green cardamom, genuine almond extract and rosewater. (800) 352-3451

The artwork which accompanies this post is Lord Frederic Leighton's Flaming June, (1895). The painting now resides at Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico. Leighton is considered a Classicist and this is his most well-known work. Photo from the June 2005 edition of The Victorian Society Newsletter.

This article and the accompanying recipe appeared in the January 19th and January 26th editions of Bois de Jasmin.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Dessert Haiku: Lychee Pear Gelatin


















Next to ice, gelatin is the simplest and most easily understood form of suspension in the world of flavor. Elements in suspension bend the notion of time and gelatin preserves food in its earthly state while foreshadowing its inevitable consumption. In truth, gelatin is dessert haiku; it is a visual medium for the experience of taste which has been spared from complicated presentation.

Gelée is a term commonly found on restaurant menus and is used to call out finely cubed gelatin garnishes. Beet, carrot, cucumber and tomato gelées are typically found alongside meat or vegetable dishes. Champagne or wine gelées appear in sweet and savory dishes. A gelatin dessert made from scratch can be created utilizing fruit juice or dessert wine (Sauterne, ice wine, etc.). The addition of complimentary or contrasting fruits builds flavor and entices the eyes, resulting in an experience that surpasses the exaggerated tastes and colors of pre-flavored gelatin.

Plain gelatin can be taken to intense or sublime flavor heights, but a gentle application of flavor serves this medium best. If you decide to experiment with dessert wine, use fruits that reflect aromas inherent in the drink. For instance, there are floral apricot notes in Sauterne, so transposing lightly sweetened apricots would do nicely here. Pineapple, kiwi, gingerroot, papaya, figs and guava will prevent gelatin from setting and should be not be used in juice or fruit form.

Lychee Pear Gelatin
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
(Serves 6-8)

Ingredients:
· 4 envelopes of Knox® unflavored gelatin
· 1 liter of Ceres® Lychee Juice, refrigerated overnight*
· 1 ½ cups diced pears in light syrup (fruit only, separate from juice)
· ¼ tsp. ground green cardamom
· Whipped cream

Instructions:
· Heat 3 cups of juice and cardamom to a boil.
· Mix 1 cup of cold juice with four packets of gelatin in a large metal bowl.
· Add hot juice to cold and mix for five minutes, making sure the gelatin is completely dissolved.
· Add diced pears.
· Ladle the gelatin mixture into a 13x9x2 inch pan.
· Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for three hours (or until firm).
· Cut into squares and serve with whipped cream and a pinch of cardamom.

Notes:

The artwork which accompanies this post is from Mira calligraphiæ monumenta, a Sixteenth-century Calligraphic Manuscript by Georg Bocskay and Joris Hoefnagel.

In the Sweet Kitchen: The Definitive Baker’s Companion by Megan Daly contains a section on complementary flavors, which is indispensable as it applies to baking and cooking.

*Ceres® brand juice is sold at Whole Foods, A&P and select gourmet food shops.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Perfume Memories: CHANEL N°5

 













CHANEL N°5 —three words that weave a fragrant aura around the world, inspiring all who inhale the carefully arranged bouquet of this timeless, best-selling classic. The finest art in the world is ageless, resonating with dreams and desires that etch themselves into waking life. The perfume of olfactive memory is no different. It paints the canvas of our shared humanity, highlighting fundamental experiences that impact present and future encounters.

When the curtains of memory are permitted to part in my own life, an elegant figure of a woman emerges from the past. Her name is Mrs. Glassman, an elderly widow whose closest companions were the sillage of N°5 and her Chihuahuas, Nosey and Chico. The year is 1974. Mrs. Glassman was a worldly widow who continued to reside in the Fordham Road section of the Bronx after the loss of her husband and mother. Highly intelligent and quick-witted, her matronly carriage radiated natural elegance and strength. She kept her salt and pepper hair up with a few bobby pins and a single barrette, which accented a countenance blessed with perfect bone structure.

Mrs. Glassman’s cheeks were always impeccably rouged and well-suited to the bright red lipstick she rarely went without. Her presence attracted respect and curiosity in adults—and fear in children who were loud or ill-behaved as she made no bones about redressing peace and quiet in the face of rudeness. Though cordial and very curious about the lives of her neighbors, she was not one to invite guests into her home. She lived a contented life of solitude in a three bedroom apartment she once shared with her family and was known to spent a good deal of time reading newspapers and books.

As a child, I identified the neighbors in my building with the distinct odor of their living spaces. Each apartment had a unique scent, much like a person. The individual aromas were an inimitable melding of floor coverings, wall treatments, wooden furniture, upholstery, pets, commonly used cooking spices and faint traces of soap, shampoo and powder. The olfactive impression of Mrs. Glassman’s apartment, which I had only experienced at her front door, resembled an old library mingled with the hissing steam of a tired radiator and a distinctive touch of perfume. In my child’s mind, her solitary and ultra feminine way of life seemed stern, yet intriguing.

On a Thursday evening, I was working on a homework assignment and needed a particular edition of previous Sunday’s paper. My mother suggested that I visit Mrs. Glassman and though I was amused by the prospect of encountering her petite dogs, I was a bit uneasy. Mrs. Glassman never opened her apartment door completely and in all of the Creature Feature and Chiller movies I watched against my parents’ wishes, that could only mean one thing—evil lurked somewhere behind that door. My child’s mind never considered the fact that privacy might have been an issue. With due consideration and an adrenaline rush supplied by Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, I decided to add some spice to my mission. Not only would I get the newspaper I needed for the “A” I planned on getting in current events—I would get inside Mrs. Glassman’s apartment so I could decipher its smell and unearth the mystery which lurked behind the apartment door.

It was 6:30 and my skipping feet echoed along the hallway that led to Mrs. Glassman’s fourth floor apartment. I rang the doorbell once, knowing full well that anything more than that would incite a chaotic chorus of barks from Chico, Nosey and an old poodle named Pepi who lived next door. Mrs. Glassman’s door opened with a creaky yawn. She was wearing an evening robe and surveyed me over her spectacles. I carefully explained which edition of The New York Times I needed and how I was hoping to get an “A” in class. She smiled and invited me inside.

The door opened into a dining area lit by a single a table lamp. The adjacent living room, like the rest of the apartment, was fully carpeted and well furnished. The living room was more of a study, with dark wooden furniture and a preponderance of brown and burgundy hues. In a corner by a leather chair and ottoman were four neatly stacked newspaper and magazine piles, each about a foot and a half tall. The smell of book jackets and fatigued newsprint mingled with a faint though distinct perfume that shadowed Mrs. Glassman’s every move.

To the right of the dining table was a silver tray that held a square hairbrush with white bristles and a bottle of fine fragrance. Dim lighting made it a challenge to read the perfume label, so I quietly walked towards the silver tray to get a better look while Mrs. Glassman was rifling through her newspapers. The black letters grew clear against a white backdrop and formed these words—CHANEL N°5. I wanted to open the bottle, but knew it would not be polite to do so without asking. I could smell the resinous concentrate lingering at the bottle’s neck, which made the temptation all the more greater. The smell was distinctly feminine and floral, with a powdery touch of boudoir. Before I could request permission to sniff, Mrs. Glassman asked if I would like to sit down and have a warm drink. There were no bogeymen in the dimly lit apartment and she had a box of Nabisco Social Tea Biscuits, so I accepted.

Nosey and Chico were sleeping in the leather chair by the paper piles, but as soon as drinks and biscuits were served, Nosey, who was quite old and slightly arthritic (like his owner), woke up and ambled towards the foot of the dining table. Mrs. Glassman picked him up and placed him in her lap. “Do you brush your hair every night?” I asked. “Yes, I do and I use a special brush, the one on the tray over there,” she replied. I was getting closer to the object of my curiosity and my motive must have broken through its thinly veiled disguise. “My mother wears perfume too, but it doesn’t look like the one you have.” I said. “Bring it over here and I’ll show it to you, but be very careful. It’s from Paris.”

The only time I’d ever been to Paris was on a layover between flights. The policemen at the airport looked like toy soldiers in Oliver and Hardy's Babes in Toyland and I was completely convinced (at the age of seven) that there was a wind-up key hidden inside each of their jackets. I explained this to Mrs. Glassman who chuckled and woke up Chico with her laughter. He made a tiny howling sound and gave a sad-eyed look. The bottle of CHANEL N°5 was now on the dining room table and as Chico turned on his Chihuahua charm, I was aching to open the perfume bottle.

Nosey woke up and left Mrs. Glassman’s lap, giving Chico his turn at affection. Then, the strangest thing occurred. As Mrs. Glassman spoke endearing words to Chico, he would respond in what sounded like a cross between a howl and a moan. Suddenly, Mrs. Glassman started singing to him in a croaky, melodic voice. Chico howled along with her and I laughed so hard a bit of tea I had sipped escaped through my nose. “He can sing,” she told me, proudly grinning. I was convinced, but I was also mesmerized by the scent of CHANEL N°5 which was sitting near my elbow and wafting into my nostrils.

The miniature grandfather clock in the living room struck seven. Mrs. Glassman handed me the newspaper I needed for class. I thanked her as politely as I knew how and stared at the perfume bottle. I never had a chance to open it and experience the scent in Mrs. Glassman’s presence, but somehow it did not matter. The perfume of CHANEL N°5 surrounded our conversation and Chico’s side-splitting performance. Decades later it is hard not to recall the details of this encounter whenever CHANEL N°5 is in the air. As a fragrance professional, my associations with perfumes are very conscious, sometimes bringing up memories I would easily sacrifice to amnesia. When working on a project that requires extensive research and careful writing, I sometimes reach for a bottle of N°5, much in the way Hemmingway would a fine whisky, and resurrect the memories of an elegant woman and her curious study...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Curry Leaf: An Herb to Savor (with Recipe)

Daylight Saving Time will begin on Sunday, November 4th, accentuating shortened days that mark the coming winter. Though there are limits to enjoyment of outdoor activities in colder months, there are numerous opportunities for delight at the stove. Colder weather stimulates the appetite, which in turn yields more easily to new ingredients. Curry leaves cast a bewitching spell in the kitchen, revealing a savory perfume that captivates and comforts.

When we close our eyes in gustative pleasure, the sense of hearing, smell, taste and touch are heightened. This makes the culinary experience of new ingredients more intense. Consider the feeling you get when you come in from the cold and enter a home filled with the aromas of a rich stew. Your face may feel frigid, your nose nearly numb, but your heart is warmed by the promise of a good meal. Add the element of something indescribably delicious and you have an enticing formula for sensorial discovery (not to mention affection).

The aromatic profile of curry leaves is bright and warm. They possess a distinct freshness reminiscent of citrus leaves and a meat-like aspect that is minutely sulfurous. It is no wonder that curry leaves are a staple ingredient in South Indian vegetarian cooking—they add a savory quality that bay leaves simply cannot touch. Smelling the fresh leaves makes the mouth water and the distinct sound of their sizzle in oil (which is how one liberates their flavor) leaves a lasting impression.

Fresh curry leaves are available at local Indian grocery stores. They last for two weeks in the refrigerator or may be stored in the freezer for future use. Curry leaves are not limited to bean dishes; they are excellent in eggs as well. The recipe for Curried Lentil Stew included in this post was developed with health and flavor in mind. It is high in protein, low in fat and extremely satisfying on a cold day.

Curried Lentil Stew
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
(Serves 8)

Ingredients:
· 1 medium Spanish onion (chopped)
· 2 stalks of celery, (peeled and chopped)
· 2 carrots (peeled and chopped)
· 2 ½ inch finger of ginger (peeled and thinly sliced)
· 15 fresh curry leaves
· 1 package (10 oz.) frozen, chopped spinach (thawed)
· 1 package (10 oz.) frozen, puréed winter squash (thawed)
or 1 ½ cups canned pumpkin
· ½ sweet red pepper, medium-sized (diced)
· 3 ounces golden raisins or dried apricots
· 3 ounces shelled pistachios (almonds are also fine, as are cashews)
· 2 cups of texturized vegetable protein (TVP, see Flavor Notes)
· 16 ounce package of green lentils (rinsed and picked through for stones)
· 4 tablespoons of olive oil (or grapeseed oil)
· 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
· 4 teaspoons of curry powder (sweet variety, not hot, Penzy’s Maharajah is best)
· ¼ teaspoon of whole coriander seeds (heaping)
· 2 quarts and one can (14 oz.) College Inn® non-fat, low sodium chicken broth
· Cholula® brand hot sauce
· 16 oz. container of nonfat, Greek yogurt

Instructions:
· Prep all vegetables and set aside.
· Heat oil in a large soup pot and sauté curry leaves, onions and celery until onions are clear and begin to caramelize.
· Add curry powder and mix well, coating the sautéed vegetables.
· Add 2 quarts chicken stock, carrots, ginger, winter squash, red pepper, dried fruit, nuts, lentils and coriander seeds. Simmer for one and a half hours.
· Add thawed spinach, remaining can of chicken stock and pomegranate molasses. Simmer for 10 minutes.
· Add texturized vegetable protein (TVP) and simmer for 45 minutes to completion.
· Present in a soup bowl with a dollop of plain yogurt. Hot sauce is also good as it adds an interesting counterbalance to the savory and sweet flavors in the stew. Cholula® brand is best as it is moderately hot and on the citric side.

Flavor Notes:

Texturized vegetable protein (TVP) is made from soy and keeps carbohydrates in check while adding valuable nutrition and fiber. It is typically used as a substitute for meat in vegetarian dishes with a sauce base. TVP, which is cereal-like and flavorless, readily absorbs moisture and takes on the flavor of whatever it is added to. Cooked, its texture is somewhere between a meat and an al dente grain. Bob’s Red Mill TVP is sold in health food stores and online.

Curry leaves are available in the refrigerated section of Indian grocery stores. Do not used the dried version in this recipe as it has little flavor.

If you are a vegetarian, you may substitute a tomato-free vegetable stock for the chicken stock. This will meet your dietary needs, as well as the flavor requirements of the dish.

Other Notes:

Acrylic painting of "Moon Magic" by Krista Lynn Brown. It is available for sale on the artist's website, Devaluna.

Plant Cultures is a wonderful resource that focuses on links between Britain and South Asia, via the story of plants and people. The site is a beautiful educational tool, complete with pictures and drawings—including a section on curry leaf.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bloom Magazine (Issue 16): Foliage


















There isn’t a fragrance lover or gourmand who hasn’t experienced an intense, unearthly connection to a raw material or specific combination of ingredients. These precious moments serve as a catalyst for the merging of self with the collective unconscious. Describing such instants is often difficult, especially at inception. We run the risk of losing the moment by immediately analyzing it, thereby stunting creative forces.

Wisdom dictates the need for objectivity as well as detachment from likes and dislikes, but sometimes our personal efforts are not enough; we stumble over ourselves and the very things we are enchanted by. At times like this, guidance from someone who is able to tap into cultural and creative energies is precious. Bloggers adhere to vertical communities and books—the fragrance industry relies on the work of trend forecaster Li Edelkoort.

Li Edelkoort provides guidance for students of design, as well as the beauty and fashion industry. Uttering her name in the presence of those who have experienced her books and lectures elicits praise and wonder. Li is a well-traveled visionary who observes what is going on in the world with a natural curiosity that is oriented towards assessment rather than judgment. Her clarity of vision and fearlessness in the face of formidable chaos allow her to harness archetypal energies and present them in a way that compel and inspire. What is most refreshing about Li’s work is her ability to tell a story with visuals and words that are unique, yet universal—something other trendcasters struggle with in today’s iconic “expert” culture.

Bloom is a magazine to behold. Published twice a year, each edition focuses on a central theme that is seasoned with a horticultural flavor. The "Foliage" issue (16) insightfully examines the ways in which human beings relate to green as a color, as well as the way green manifests as an ethos with respect to fashion, food and beauty. The issue is filled with thought provoking images of verdancy which are the result of numerous artistic collaborations.

Scent is a tangible component of the "Foliage" edition; an historic first in Bloom's eight year history. In an olfactive section titled “Spirit of Place” blotters scented with green-inspired accords accompany the photographs of people representing well-travelled regions of the world. The accords were created by Givaudan perfumers who had between one and two months to create them. There were no briefs and no rules, which perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto describes as "very freeing". The accords are presented in this order:

Asana – The Indian: curry leaf, absolue mastic, fenugreek, fennel, cinnamon leaf, coriander seed and caraway. The lingering scent of an Indian kitchen comes to mind when smelling this creation. Accord created by Antoine Maisondieu.

Odin – The Nordic: a green anise note with a dill base, pink pepper, juniper berry, angelica seed, birch leaf and a woody mineral note. A cool, marine effect is executed here, which resonates well with the photograph of an androgynous gentleman who agreed to be photographed for this interpretation of place. Accord created by Nathalie Gracia-Cetto.

Baraka – The Moroccan: olive leaf, galbanum essence, mastic leaf, olive note, davana essence with dried fruit accents, thyme leaf, rosemary leaf, basil leaf, cumin, fenugreek, absolue immortelle, woody notes of cedar and oakmoss, and resinous labdanum. One cannot help but sense the formation of a beautiful chypre when smelling this composition. Its resinous earthy character is fertile ground for a full bouquet. Accord created by Shyamala Maisondieu.

Ngoma – The African: banana leaf, geranium leaf, tamboti wood, accents of vanilla and cacao. The aromas in this composition are tenderly woody and intimate. Of all of the accords in "Spirit of Place," this one begs to be worn. Accord created by Nathalie Gracia-Cetto.

Bloom is available by mail and in-person at the Fashion Institute of Technology bookstore. Priced at $85.00, it is a wonderful addition to a perfume lover’s collection of fragrant inspirations. Issues 1, 4, 8 and 11 are completely sold out. For information on the 16th edition of Bloom and public presentations given by Li Edelkoort call/email Edelkoort Inc.'s New York offices at 212- 420-7622 / info@edelkoortinc.com .

Notes:

There are several places on the Internet where you can read about Li Edelkoort and her work. Though conducted in 1995, this interview in Lumiere reveals a woman who is simultaneously in the present and ahead of her time. Designboom features a more recent interview which is worthy of reading. Lastly, Li is featured as part of a trend/lifestyle site run by Symrise.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Perfume Memories: The Magic of Miss Dior



















When a mother applies makeup in the presence of her daughter, she generates an air of womanliness that evokes awe and wonder, but with a single spray of perfume her femininity is exalted. As the scent diffuses, her beauty radiates beyond the maternal and flirts with a provocative gentleness that every young girl desires to emulate. Primary fragrance experiences leave more than enduring impressions in their wake; they set the stage for future tastes and passions while simultaneously evoking the past.

I know the scent and bottle shape of each of my mother’s perfumes by heart. Millot’s Crepe de Chine (1925), Jean Patou’s Joy (1930), Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps (1948), Christian Dior’s Miss Dior (1947), and a Caron holiday trio of Nuit de Noël (1922), Fleur de Rocailles (1934), and Bellodgia (1927) are mesmerizing creations that divulge their alluring complexity over time, a quality that is rare in commercial perfumes released over the past twenty years. These “classic” perfumes arouse the senses and call for immediate pause and reflection. Substantive and mysterious, they stir a timeless impression of feminine grace.

My mother never bought her own perfumes as my father took to lavishing her with carnation bouquets (her favorite) and fine French fragrance on birthdays and anniversaries. Not one to roam the floors of retail department stores, my father relied on the advice of a boutique owner from India, whose haute selection of perfumes inevitably led to purchases of distinction.

Whoever this perfume purveyor was, he must have had a preternatural sense for his customers. Each scent he sold to my father possessed notes that resonated with my parent’s lives. Bellodgia and L’air du Temps are carnation classics and pleased my mother immensely as they represented her favorite flower. Joy, a rich reminiscence of rose and jasmine, echoed the spirit of flowers that imprinted their culinary and olfactive qualities on my great grandparents, who migrated from Iraq to Palestine by foot. Miss Dior (eau de cologne) was the queen of all gifts as a note in the dry down of this Chypre fragrance resembled a personal scent that anointed my father—the musky sweet, animalic aroma of tanned leather skins which filled his garment shop.

As a child I was a mischievous explorer who enjoyed opening dresser drawers and medicine cabinets. It was during one of these escapades that I came across a bottle of Miss Dior. It was located in a bureau drawer that was easy for my small fingers to open in childish stealth. Carefully tucked away, beneath folded undergarments and silk scarves was a white satin box that contained Miss Dior. It seemed so special on the outside, which is what motivated me to open it immediately so I could examine its contents. There was a black and white houndstooth pattern on the label and an aromatic trace that reminded me of the sweet scents of spring and autumn mixed together.

I attentively twisted the cap and placed my finger over the mouth of the bottle before tilting it. Gently dabbing the fragrance behind my ears, in what I am certain was an exaggerated lady-like manner, I began to feel the perfume’s emotional power. This scent, this magnificent invisible veil, was as enchanting as any fairy tale I’d ever read. I sat quietly and was discovered by my mother, who besides having an incredible sense of smell, has what is referred to as “mother hearing.” I was gently reprimanded and wasn’t sure why the chastening came with a smile, something that makes perfect sense to me now that I am woman.

My mother wore Miss Dior whenever she and my father were invited to weddings and celebrations. Her Sephardic heritage blessed her with incredible beauty. Her skin was fair and flawless, her eyes a soft brown, her hair a natural jet-black and her figure—absolutely perfect. The only makeup she ever wore was foundation, blush, lipstick and pressed powder (all Revlon). There was one particular gown in her collection that seemed to have been made just for her. The top half was made of rich black velvet and the skirted portion, from the waist down, had alternating strips of black and white satin. When she put on this gown and added a touch of perfume, my younger sister and I were rendered speechless.

On one occasion, my father, who adored seeing my mother dressed up for affairs, looked at her admiringly and kissed her on the cheek. This sent my sister and me into fits of hysterical, awkward laughter. We’re still smiling today as in January 2008 they will have been married for 45 years. Perhaps there is a little magic in Miss Dior

Notes:

The photo of my mother, Rachel, was taken before she met my father. In addition to the “little black dress” in the photo, she wore Crepe de Chine, the first French fragrance she purchased for herself. She celebrated her birthday this past week and in grand tradition received a bouquet of carnations from her husband.

Crepe de Chine, which was discontinued for a time, returned to the marketplace in its original formulation and is available at Irma Shorell (Long Lost Perfume). Jeffrey Dame, the owner of the company, worked in the beauty industry for a number of years. His website, Perfume of Life was one of the first fragrance communities to appear on the Internet. It is a lively and informative destination that is worth visiting.

A MUST READ: An article that resonates with the emotional power which fragrance exerts on memory appeared in The Seattle Post Intelligencer on September 25, 2007. In "Perfume and the Memory of War," Erin Solero examines the connection between history and fine fragrance. Referencing classics from Guerlain and Caron, she draws attention to events which stirred the emotions of those living through war, via perfume. This is by far one of the best essays ever written on the subject stateside. One hopes that this is not Ms. Solero’s last fragrance piece as it is compelling, erudite and gives fine fragrance its due.

Miss Dior is available in fine department stores. The current formulation (part of a 1992 re-branding) is a bit toned down in its animalic aspects. The remnants of a vintage bottle of eau de cologne from 1962 possess a much deeper character. Though I still enjoy the current iteration I would suggest that Parfums Christian Dior consider the rising interest in Chypre fragrances and restore Miss Dior to her original glory. Most fragrance bloggers concur on this fact.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Turkey Baharat: An Otherworldly Recipe


















In autumn we arrive at the fulcrum of change, from flower to fruit, from seed to vegetable, all of nature’s bounty lies before us. Pleasure is a guest at every table and in the fall, it guides the hand of the cook who has patiently waited for cooler days and the bounties of the season. The essence of cooking is transformation and it is this quality, along with our ancestral links, that permits the parting of the veil between worlds.

The preparation of food engages our senses and it starts the moment ingredients are selected. We look, touch, and smell produce before choosing what best suits need and appetite. Washing, cutting and preparing food with our hands uncovers hidden scents that lie beneath vegetal skins and membranes, revealing the defining character of fruits, vegetables and animal flesh. As food is transformed by fire a variety of aromas are released, wrapping the soul in the comfort of sweet and savory perfumes. To inhale these enchanting scents is to know time as an endless continuum of culinary delight.

The promise of nourishment is maternally archetypal so it should come as no surprise that when one is cooking, a window to the past opens into the present. In this space the essence of those who taught us how to cook, and those who preceded them, escapes through the steam and vapor of the cooking pot. Otherworldly inspiration isn’t a stranger to the cook. An alchemical process guided by intuition is activated when mixing disparate ingredients with the intention of creating a cohesive whole. One must be familiar with the individual essence of each ingredient and in combining them, be willing to improvise as needed. This process is not reserved for complex creations for even the simplest of dishes must make connections with previous attempts to create a specific effect.

Turkey Baharat is a recipe inspired by Middle Eastern roots. There is no paper trail behind this dish; no cookbooks, no recipe cards, no verbal recitations from a family matriarch scribbled in simple journals. I cannot attribute the inspiration to my early years at the dinner table as my childhood was colored by American tastes adopted by immigrant parents. Turkey Baharat was inspired by the smell of Arabic Baharat, a spice mixture commonly used with mutton, lamb, lentil and pilaf dishes.

The notion of Turkey Baharat, as a recipe, was instinctual and immediate. As soon as I opened the spice jar, the melding of tellicherry black pepper, coriander, cloves, cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, cassia and allspice transfixed my senses with their dark, exotic beauty. Though I had never encountered this blend of spices before, there was an undeniable sense of déjà vu. I cannot say what I can ascribe this to, but I know that someone on my mother’s side of the family must have used this exact combination of spices—I feel in my heart and in my head to this very day.

Turkey Baharat
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
(Serves 6)

Ingredients:
· 1 lb. ground lean turkey (7% fat or less)
· 1 medium onion, chopped
· 10 prunes, chopped
· 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
· 1 1/2 teaspoon baharat
· 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
· 1 small (10 oz.)package frozen spinach (thawed)
· 5 tablespoons tomato paste
· 3-4 tablespoons honey (light honey)
· 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
· 1 can chicken low sodium/low fat stock
· 1/2 teaspoon orange flower water

Instructions:
· Chop onions and prunes separately and set aside.
· Heat grapeseed oil in a large skillet and sauté onions on a medium flame until they begin to caramelize. The chopped onion pieces should be clear and the outer edges should be a cinnamon color.
· Add the dry baharat spice to the onions and thoroughly coat them with the spice mixture.
· Slowly pour the chicken stock over the onions and stir together.
· Place chopped prunes into the pan.
· Add 1 cup of pumpkin puree and mix until thoroughly incorporated.
· Add tomato paste and blend well.
· Add pomegranate molasses and honey, stirring until they are completely dissolved.
· Add thawed spinach.
· Simmer ingredients until they approach a boil.
· Add lean chopped turkey and stir continuously, breaking up the meat.
· Allow to simmer for ten minutes with the lid on.
· Add orange flower water.
· Remove from flame and allow the dish to rest for 15 minutes, with the lid on.
· Add salt to taste and serve over couscous or rice.

Notes:

Baharat packs a touch of heat, but is not at all searing. If you are sensitive to hot spices, add an extra teaspoon or two of pomegranate molasses as its acidic nature has a neutralizing effect on heat. If Turkey Baharat is prepared in advance and allowed to sit in the refrigerator overnight, the flavors will meld beautifully.

Baharat is the most common spice mixture used in Arabic cuisine and variations exist in Israel, Turkey and other Mediterranean countries. This recipe was created with good health in mind, hence the use of lean ground turkey.

The picture featured at the beginning of this week’s article is a painting by Krista Lynn Brown entitled “Smoke Prayer”. The acrylic on canvas painting is one of many for sale on her website. Brown’s dreamy paintings are rich in imagery and symbolism, and are extremely beautiful to look at.

Memories Dreams and Reflections is the autobiography of Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist whose memorable contributions to analysis include; the collective unconscious, the theory of synchronicity, and psychological archetypes. Jung had a profound understanding of the spiritual and his interest in esoteric sciences and dreams set him apart from Freudian colleagues.

Special thanks to Ayala Sender, editor of Smellyblog, whose inspired pieces on Sukkot and citron stirred personal food and cultural memories.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Rose Pleasures in Food, Drink & Beauty

The nature of sensory pleasures is fleeting, but the essence of something, its individual “spirit” if you will, moves beyond the ephemeral and is fixed in eternity. Outstanding applications of florals exist in artisan foods and luxury beauty products, but access to them is limited based on cost, availability and knowledge. If one desires to dally with a variety of fragrant temptations, there is no better place to start than the rose.

Rose is the oldest domesticated flower known to mankind. Highly cultivated it is one of the first flowers humans recognize by sight and scent. Red roses symbolize love and we have the Victorians to thank for cultivating a language of flowers based on color and floral arrangement. The Romans adored roses and petals were customarily strewn at weddings and celebrations (the Emperor Nero allegedly slept on rose petals and had his floors carpeted with them as well). In ancient Rome, a door marked with a rose was a sign that confidential matters were being discussed inside. This practice led to the Latin term sub rosa (meaning “under the rose") which was applied to exchanges requiring secrecy. On an historic note, the culinary introduction of Southern Europe's Gallic Rose to Britain was likely Roman in origin. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Gallic Rose was cultivated by Benedictine monks and became an emblem of Christianity.

In the 17th century the Dominican monks of Santa Maria Novella developed Elisir di Rose (Rose Elixir), a delightful cordial made with Gallic Rose which is still made today. The Italian liquor possesses a soft blush and is tenderly sweet on the palate. The Elisir is best drank neat, but weaves an enchanting spell when mixed with chilled Nivole, a Moscato D’ Asti from Michele Chiarlo of Italy. A single shot of Elisir mixed with half a glass of Nivole achieves the perfect balance of fruity floral flavors. The effervescence of the Asti melds seamlessly with Elisir di Rose and creates a refreshing sensation that rises above the delicate bubbles in the wine, bringing to mind the sights and scents of a rose garden. Champagne may also be used in combination with Elisir di Rose, a delirious combination dubbed the “Rosa Novella.”

Rose and sugar are eager bedfellows so it is not surprising to find them flagrantly Rose candy that brilliantly surpasses expectations. For the inexperienced, fear of the cloying taste of potpourri dissipates as a miniscule dusting of powdered sugar gives way to a hint of true Rose Maroc, balanced with an ethereal trace of ripe berries.
commingling in jams and hard candies. The Apothecary’s Garden™ by Sweet Botanicals™ manufactures a

Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano Conserva di Petale di Rosa (Rose Petal Preserves) is a more decadent choice and frankly, an unexpected surprise. Many rose preserves are thin, contain more pectin than rose, and possess a crass sugar bite. Made without pectin, Italy's Conserva di Petale di Rosa is overflowing with rose petals and makes up for a lack of pectin with a sugar and water reduction. When refrigerated the preserves become thick—a texture that is perfect for spreading. For a memorable experience, try a bit of the preserves on a piece of Valbreso French Feta (purchased from a cheese block versus the packaged version, which is too salty). Valbreso French Feta is made with sheep’s milk and is a by-product of the Roquefort cheese making process. It possesses a soothing creaminess and slight tang that marry well with the sweet floralcy of the jam--a combination vaguely reminiscent of strawberry cream cheese.

Caron perfumes are rich expressions of glamour and pedigree, but Caron La Poudre face powder captures the sensual boudoir character of rose in ways that its Or et Noir and Rose perfumes cannot. La Poudre not only contains treasured Bulgarian rose oil (which is distilled by Caron and used in its perfumes) but the talc is finely milled to create a flawless finish on skin. If this were not heavenly enough, an optional ostrich feather powder puff adds a soft element of touch to the experience, ensuring perfect application. Indulging in La Poudre invokes poise, femininity and grace—characteristics not unlike the rose herself.

La Prairie is no stranger to the virtues of rose in skincare. The rose in Cellular Treatment Rose Illusion Line Filler is portrayed as a color, scent and tactile fantasy—as opposed to an active ingredient in the formulation. The pink gel was one of the first silicone-based makeup primers available at haute beauty counters. Cellular Treatment Rose Illusion Line Filler surpasses performance of competing silicone-based primers, many of which feel slippery or unctuous. The enriched, oil-free gel is flecked with a dreamy opalescence and imparts a petal-like smoothness to skin. There are no garish scent aspects to speak of as the fragrance in this skin primer possesses a fresh character that gracefully exits after application.

There are many ways to enjoy the majestic beauty of rose—those catalogued here only scratch the surface. Abundant sensory choices await those who venture beyond the comfort zone of prescribed applications and known territories. Where will your journeys take you?

Notes:

Elisir di Rose is sold at Santa Maria Novella in New York City. It is available for purchase in-person and cannot be shipped. Price: $75.00. The store is located at 285 Lafayette Street. 1-800-362-3677.

Novaclutch locates the esteemed Elisir di Rose and falls in love. Photo of the Elisir from Novaclutch.

The Apothecary’s Garden™ Rose candy is manufactured by Sweet Botanicals™ of England. Price: $7.00. The confection is available in select stores and at Artisan Sweets.

Pietro Romanego fu Stefano Conserva di Petale di Rosa is also available at Artisan Sweets. Price: $18.00.

The suggested combination of Valbreso French Feta and rose petal preserves comes from Armen Benlian, proprietor of Yaranush, a Mediterranean food store in Westchester. The store is located at 322 White Plains Avenue, in White Plains, New York. 914-682-8449.

Caron La Poudre may be ordered by phone at 1-877-88CARON. It can also be purchased at the Caron boutique, located at 715 Lexington Avenue (at the corner of 58th Street) in New York City. Price: $45.00. A regular cosmetic puff comes with the powder, but an ostrich feather powder puff is available at an additional price of $45.00. To make an appointment at the boutique, call 212-308-0270.

La Prairie Cellular Treatment Rose Illusion Line Filler is available for purchase online or at luxury department stores. Price: $100.

Bill Yosses, White House Executive Pastry Chef, created sugar rose blossoms for a State Dinner in honor of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Phillip Duke of Edinburgh (May of 2007). The picture, featured in the first paragraph of this post, was taken by Lynden Steele.