Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reading Your Way to Great Taste

There are few indulgences in life that come without a price. Case in point; the past two weeks of holiday feasting that has loosened belt buckles across the nation. Reading books about food is a great way to hone your sense of taste minus the risks associated with gluttony. Consider the following list a prescription for the New Year. Side effects include: knowledge of interesting and unusual facts, a legitimate reason for needed time alone, and a curiously informed palate that will impress friends and potential love interests.

Recommended Reading:
Any book in the Reaktion “Edible” series, edited by Andrew F. Smith.

Reason:
Content is short, sweet and packed with interesting information. Savor the subject of your choice; Cheese, Chocolate, Curry, Hamburger, Hot Dog, Pancake, Pie, Pizza or Spices. Forthcoming titles include; Bread, Cake, Caviar, Cocktails, Dates, Fish and Chips, Ice Cream, Lobster, Milk, Pasta, Soup, Tea, Tomato, Vodka, Whiskey and Wine.

Caveat:
Reading these books before going to sleep may induce cravings, especially Pancake.

Recommended Reading:
Alimentum

Reason:
Alimentum is a journal for food lovers by food lovers. Its pages are filled with fiction, poetry and essays that are authentic, imaginative and at times heartbreakingly beautiful. Think that the bittersweet taste of love and caramelized Scandinavian goat cheese aren’t related? Think again: “...In time I would taste all kinds of desire, too, from piquant longing to salty lust; from pungent infatuation to tart jealousy; from sour envy to saccharine adulation. Yet never again would the sweetness of longing be so perfectly balanced with the musky, gamey saltiness of lust as it was that summer…” (You’ll have to buy issue nine of Alimentum to read the rest of Peter Selgin’s Gjetost.)

Caveat:
Alimentum is published bi-annually. Quality content makes it hard to wait six months for the next issue's arrival.

Recommended Reading:
Gastronomica, published by the University of California Press.

Reason:
Whining about the loss of Gourmet won’t bring the magazine back (though television is likely to be the medium of resurrection for Ruth Reichl). Gastronomica gives you an opportunity to sink your teeth into the culture of food with an intellectual bend. Literature, essays, history and book reviews abound in this quarterly, though some content is more eclectic than others. Don’t deny the needs of your inner geek. Pull up those pants, tighten that belt buckle and nerd up.

Caveat:
Parting with Gastronomica is difficult. Stylish covers rendered in high “art school” style make every issue perfect for the coffee table.

Recommended Reading:
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee

Reason:
On Food and Cooking is the consummate “book of why” for every food question imaginable. From the simple to the technical McGee, the father of molecular gastronomy, makes food science approachable and interesting. “Flavorings from Plants: Herbs, Spices, Tea and Coffee,” the eighth chapter, will fascinate foodies with aromatic descriptor charts a la perfumer Jean Carles. The book had a profound influence on the Fat Duck’s Heston Blumenthal; he became a chef after reading the 884 page book from cover to cover.

Caveat:

This book is meant to be savored. Resist the temptation to take a week off, curl up on the couch and read the whole damn thing.

Recommended Reading:
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

Reason:
Don’t let every bad history teacher you’ve ever had stand between you and this book. Kurlansky is an engaging storyteller who unearths myth, history and intrigue out of an ingredient many of us take for granted (forget about salt throwing superstitions, if you didn’t eat salt you’d be dead). Over consumption of salt derived from chemical processing, versus cultivation via sea water and rock deposits, has demonized an ingredient that deserves a closer look and a little more love.

Caveat:
An increased desire to read books based on single culinary ingredients may follow. Finding a raconteur like Kurlansky will not.

Recommended Reading:
Herbs and Spices: The Cook’s Reference by Jill Norman

Reason:
Herbs and Spices: The Cook’s Reference is a sensualist’s dream. Each entry includes information on tasting notes, parts of the plant used, buying and storing, growing your own, culinary uses and suggested combinations. Jill Norman is a culinary doyenne when it comes to herbs and spices (she’s a trustee of the estate of Elizabeth David). Her publisher, Dorling Kindersley Limited, has spared no aesthetic expense in the design of the book; lush photography illustrates every page.

Caveat:
This is the Holy Grail when it comes to books on herbs and spices. Ian Hemphill’s Herb & Spice Bible is a close second, followed by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz’ The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices and Flavorings.

Recommended Reading & Huffing:
Les Coulisses du Parfum Series, Volume IV: Vibrations of Spices (Ozmoz.com)

Reason:
Engaging the sense of smell improves the sense of taste. The folks at Firmenich, the flavor and fragrance company behind Osmoz.com, worked with renowned perfumer Annie Buzantian to create an olfactive spice kit. Essences include clove, nutmeg, saffron, coriander, black pepper, Sichuan pepper, pink pepper, ginger, cardamom, everlasting, cinnamon and cumin. P.S. Dipping blotters and educational brochure included.

Caveat:
The scent kit includes Immortelle flower (a raw material that produces a honeyed spice effect, but isn't technically a spice). Though all of the essences in Vibrations of Spices are derived from natural sources, the saffron tincture is a fantasy that riffs on the hedonic/musky facet of the spice.* Supporting olfactive explorations with actual spices takes this exercise to the proper level of connoisseurship. The Spice House sells ingredients in small amounts that make this suggested tweak easy to apply.

Recommended Reading:
Wellness Foods from A-Z by Sheldon Margen M.D. and the editors of the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter.

Reason:
Wellness Foods from A-Z is geared towards readers who seek to optimize health through nutrition. It is an encyclopedic reference book that analyzes the benefits of food as well as offering tips on shopping, preparation and storage. The current edition of Wellness Foods from A-Z is out of print though an updated version is likely.

Caveat:
This is a book that family members borrow and never return. Keep an extra copy well hidden.

Notes:
The Spice House' website is filled with delightful information on herbs and spices. Every page has a delicious food quote and every product for sale has a unique story on the label. You can follow the owner's tweets here.

*True saffron is rarely used in perfumery due to cost and the presence of safrole, a skin irritant and possible carcinogen. Eating saffron does not pose a danger as small amounts are used in cooking and baking. Consuming saffron has several benefits. Read this post to learn more.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

National Geographic: The Intimate Sense of Smell

Discovering a great article on olfaction that doesn’t make you feel like a science dweeb is a rarity. That’s why the September 1986 edition of National Geographic is a must-have for anyone remotely interested in the sense of smell. For a fragrance lover, it is the equivalent of finding a hardcover copy of William Kauffman’s Perfume in excellent condition. The magazine includes an in-depth article titled “The Intimate Sense of Smell.” It’s length? A whopping 36 pages long; which is more ink than Scientific American gave the sense of smell in its “Senses” issue on December 12, 2006.

“The Intimate Sense of Smell” was written 18 years before Richard Axel and Linda Buck won the Nobel Prize for their research on the molecular basis for odor perception (a theory challenged by Luca Turin, who drives a convincing argument for vibration’s role in odor perception versus Axel and Buck’s focus on shape). Writer Boyd Gibbons examines the sense of smell from scientific, aesthetic, and emotional perspectives, including stories from the animal kingdom.

When it comes to describing scent Gibbons’ style is free from hyperbolic metaphor and fetishist cliché. In “The Intimate Sense of Smell” we learn that doctors used their noses to detect disease before high tech medicine. Many of the analogies between diseases and their odors are linked with the smell of food; typhoid smells like baking bread, scrofula smells like stale beer and yellow fever smells like a butcher shop. Gibbons reveals the methods of Detroit dope smugglers who used after-shave, green peppers, talcum and/or garlic in their cars to distract the noses of drug sniffing dogs. (Note to aspiring drug smugglers; these methods do not work.)

In 1986, little research was being done on the subject of anosmia; the loss of the sense of smell. Nicolaus Weickart, who was interviewed by Gibbons, poignantly illustrates the depth of this loss, “I’m a lawyer and a collector of histories…I smell a book before I read it. You go into one of those damp bookstores in Italy, and you smell that old leather, the musty pages. You can smell a touch of history. Now I can’t. It’s very sad.”

Perfume lovers are in for a rare treat; the inclusion of an interview with IFF perfumer Bernard Chant. This is historically important as Chant’s digital presence is limited to a speech he gave to the British Society of Perfumers in 1982 and a handful of obituaries from 1987. There are no photographs of Bernard Chant on the internet, but one opens “The Intimate Sense of Smell” in National Geographic. Edmond Roudnitska, who studied under the tutelage of Ernest Beaux and was Christian Dior’s in-house perfumer, is also included in the article.

The passing of 23 years and advances in the science of olfaction are two good reasons for National Geographic to revisit the sense of smell in the near future. In the meantime you can purchase a reprint of “The Intimate Sense of Smell” for ten dollars by calling 800-777-2800 or by emailing National Geographic at ngs.single@customersvc.com. As an added bonus, look for the scratch and sniff "smell survey" conducted by Dr. Charles Wysocki and Dr. Avery Gilbert.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Chrism: Perfume for the Soul

St. Joseph’s Abbey is a monastery located in Spencer, Massachusetts. The monks who live within the walls of the abbey are renowned for their delicious Trappist Preserves, but they are also involved in the creation of Chrism, a fragrant anointing oil used in rituals of the Roman Catholic Church. The aroma of Chrism possesses indescribable beauty and is truly a perfume for the soul.

The Holy Rood Guild, a part of St. Joseph’s Abbey, has been producing Chrism for over 30 years. The formula for the anointing oil is as secret as the identity of the Chrism maker; a single monk in charge of meeting the Chrism needs for half of the Roman Catholic Dioceses in the United States. Mysterious ways are common among monks and nuns involved in the manufacture of products that sustain the livelihood of their religious order. For example, knowledge of the formula for Bénédictine liqueur, an aromatic elixir that includes at least 27 herbs and spices, is possessed by only three monks at a given time. Similarly, the formula for Chartreuse is kept by two Carthusian monks.

"Our recipe for Chrism is not made public because it was developed here by the monks over a period of time," says Brother Emmanuel, a monk at St. Joseph's Abbey for over 26 years. "They are proud of it and would not like to see it copied by a for-profit company."

Brother Emmanuel’s explanation is similar to the unspoken sentiments of fragrance manufacturers who keep their perfume formulas locked inside protected vaults despite the fact that nearly any fragrance can be copied with 75% accuracy using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. When it comes to Chrism there is a distinct difference regarding fragrance philosophy; perfume is worn for pleasure whereas Chrism is used to anoint an individual with the Holy Spirit, a transcendent act devoid of vanity and attachment to the material world.

The scent of Chrism is sweet, spicy, woody and balsamic. It is difficult to ferret out the ingredients by smell alone, but Patchouli is definitely a base note in the formula. Like Frankincense, inhalation of Chrism steadies the breath and makes it more expansive (especially when smelled before the ritual addition of olive oil). One can feel what the monks intended to create at first sniff; it is as if everything in the physical world loses its power to distract one from the inner voice of the soul. Fragrance lovers who are fond of single raw materials understand this effect, which has nothing to do with manipulation and everything to do with the unique character of each aromatic ingredient.

The best way to experience the aroma of Chrism in the Roman Catholic Church is at the Chrism Mass, which takes place every year on Holy Thursday during Holy Week (the week before Easter). The Sacred Chrism is consecrated by a Bishop who breathes over the Chrism as part of the ritual; an act which pays homage to Christ’s breathing the Holy Spirit over the Apostles after his resurrection. There are three oils made at the Chrism Mass; Sacred Chrism, Oil of the Infirm (for the sick) and Oil of the Catechumens (for Baptism). Different blessings are recited for each. Once the oils are blessed, they are distributed to churches in the diocese and are used in baptisms, confirmations, ordinations of clergy, blessings of new/existing church buildings, and at the bedside of the sick and dying.

The connection between the ritual of anointing and the breath of life is enthusiastically articulated by the Very Reverend Archimandrite Paul Menevisoglu in The Holy Myrrhon in the Eastern Orthodox Church, (published in 1972 by the Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies in Thessaloniki). “In the first breathing, God filled Adam with the breath of life. In the second breathing, our Lord Jesus Christ filled His Disciples with the Divine Breath of God—the Holy Spirit Himself! Through this miraculous in-breathing, Jesus showed that He is the Source of Eternal Life and the Mediator of the Holy Spirit to the world.”

Chrism is known as Holy Myrrhon in the Greek Orthodox tradition, and Holy Muron/Myron in the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church. Eastern Orthodox churches make their holy anointing oil during Holy Week. Unlike Chrism, Holy Myrrhon is not made on a yearly basis. Its creation is consecrated by a Patriarch (or a Bishop appointed by him). There have been nine consecrations of Holy Myrrhon in the last 100 years, the last two of which were performed by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople in 1992 and 2002.

The origin of the word Myrrhon comes from the word myrrh, which refers to the raw material and/or a fragrant oil that is the essence of a plant. According to Brother Emmanuel, Holy Myrrhon “... is far more complex than our [Chrism] and has a long ritual for mixing that takes several days.” Holy Myrrhon is more gourmand in character than Chrism, revealing an aroma that resembles exotic spiced doughnuts. Reverend Father Mark Arey’s translation of The Holy Myrrhon in the Eastern Orthodox Church includes the 57 ingredients used to make the anointing oil. The formula, which is Mediterranean in origin, includes:

1. pure olive oil
2. red wine
3. flower extract
4. rose extract
5. pure mastic
6. almond resin
7. primula flowers
8. aloe of Barbades
9. pepper (long)
10. nutmeg
11. malabathrum
12. angelica herb
13. extract of styrax
14. pure myrrh
15. pepper (black)
16. fragrant snap ring
17. balsam resin
18. sweet calamus
19. Florentine lily
20. saffron
21. aristoloche
22. fruit of the balsam tree
23. cyperus rotundus
24. sweet bay
25. Celtic nard (valerian)
26. black cassia
27. pressed nut oil
28. cardamom
29. clove
30. cinnamon
31. wild nard
32. fragrant mace
33. Venetian terebinth
34. white resin
35. pure nut oil
36. marjoram
37. ladanum
38. Indian nard
39. incense of Lebanon
40. white ginger (of Ceylon)
41. zerneb
42. fenugreek
43. helenium

After the above have been boiled and mixed, then is added:

44. oil cinnamon of Ceylon
45. oil of clove
46. congealed oil of nutmeg
47. balsam of Mecca
48. rose oil
49. mace oil
50. lemon oil
51. oil of balsam fruit
52. oil of marjoram
53. oil of bay-tree
54. oil of rosemary
55. oil of lavender
56. Indian musk
57. true amber

The original formula for anointing oil was given to Moses in Exodus 30:22-30.33 and contains five ingredients; myrrh, cinnamon, aromatic cane, cassia, and olive oil. The instructions come with a caveat; the formula is never to be used outside its religious context as this would violate the sanctity of the anointing ritual. Though Chrism and Holy Myrrhon are inspired by the same biblical tract, history, belief and culture have uniquely shaped formulations used by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. These differences leave room for further exploration of the religious use of aroma, an expression of the soulful essence of humankind.

Special Thanks & Notes:

Holy Spirit is known by other names in different religious traditions. Those familiar with Hinduism know it as prana, the "life force" related to in-breathing. No matter what your religious beliefs are, or are not, there is no denying that without breath life cannot exist. When seen from this perspective, one can ecumenically embrace all belief systems for what they symbolize best; the oneness of humankind.

Brother Emmanuel is a monk of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, commonly known as Trappists. The Order follows the rule of St. Benedict and is committed to seeking God in solitude, silence and manual work. For Brother Emmanuel, "...the monastic life is a journey of self-knowledge. We cannot know God unless we first know ourselves."

Reverend Father Mark Arey is the Director of Inter-Orthodox & Ecumenical Relations at The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America in New York City. He has generously provided the English translation of the formula for Holy Myrrhon. Reverend Father Mark Arey's profound intellect is matched by a refreshing generosity of spirit that smashes stereotypical notions of rigidity and narrow-minded thinking one may occasionally find in organized religion.

Special thanks to Dr. Santina DiLuoffo, a Glass Petal Smoke reader who planted the seed for this story in March of 2008. This article would not be possible without the assistance of Karen Doherty, a fan of the blog who digitally introduced Glass Petal Smoke to Father Robert J. Robbins, Director of the Commission for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, and Pastor of Church of the Holy Family at The United Nations Parish.

Photo of Chrismatory Set from Catholic Church Supply.

Photo of a Bishop breathing into Chrism oil is from Whispers in the Logia.

Photo of His Holiness Karekin II pouring ingredients into Holy Muron is from the Mother See of Holy Etchimadzin website. His Holiness Karekin II is head of the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church. The Armenian recipe for Holy Muron includes 48 ingredients and is made every seven years.

New York City is Home to St. Vartan Cathedral, a landmark Armenian institution located at 630 Second Avenue, on the corner of 34th Street. It is an incredibly beautiful building; inside and out.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Memories of Tamarind

I grew up in the Fordham Road section of the Bronx. In the seventies a large influx of Puerto Rican immigrants moved into the neighborhood and brought their food and their culture with them. On hot summer days a petite man dressed in jeans, a white cotton undershirt and an old straw hat would park his shaved ice cart at the entrance of St. James Park and 191st Street. This gentle and grandfatherly man would remove a small hand-held bell that hung on a metal hook at the side of his cart and deliver his refreshing offering like a carnival barker, “Coco Helado! Coco Helado! Ice-ee! Ice-ee!” When his voice reached the fourth story window of our Bronx kitchen I’d make a run for it.

I was loyal to Mister Softee ice cream during the week, but on weekends I preferred the sight of brightly colored syrups in transparent bottles that embraced a huge hunk of ice on José’s “Coco Helado” cart. At first I had some trepidation because José didn’t speak English and I had to infer the taste of the syrups by their color and the Spanish words written on masking tape that marked each glass bottle. I started with coconut, graduated to cherry and then discovered something I had never tasted before; tamarindo. The brown-colored syrup had no relationship to the colors of the rainbow which were responsible for attracting children to the cart. Tamarindo was murky, flecked with pulpy brown bits and didn’t resemble familiar fruit. I was on the verge of choosing pineapple when the response of a girl who ordered tamarindo shaved ice made a strong impression on me. I didn’t have to understand what she said to José after she took her first taste. I only had to see the smile on her face and the joyful pucker of her mouth. I learned what “refresca” and “dulce” meant that day.

My memories of tamarind went into hibernation when my family moved to the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx in 1984. I was in college then and when I returned “Coco Helado” carts were rare sightings in the neighborhood. When they did show up the brightly colored bottles were gone, replaced by frozen containers of coconut ices that would be scooped into paper cups by hand. They were creamy and delicious, but they did not deliver the refreshing sweet and sour taste of my beloved tamarindo.

Over the years the Lydig Avenue section in Pelham Parkway has become an international food market. You can find ingredients used in Asian, Albanian, Croatian, Dominican, Indian, Jamaican, Jewish, Mexican, Pakistani, Russian, Puerto Rican, and West Indian cooking along a stretch of four blocks that extend from White Plains Road to Barnes Avenue. My childhood memory of tamarind was that of a sweet and sour fruit diluted with copious amounts of sugar and water, poured over shaved ice and eaten on hot New York summer days. Finding the fruit in refrigerated section of a Key Food Supermarket on Lydig Avenue was a eureka moment; I hesitantly experienced the fresh fruit at The Fancy Food Show in New York City this summer and didn’t expect to encounter it again this year.

Eating sweet tamarind is delightfully addictive. The delicate pod cracks easily between the fingers, revealing a network of veins that support a soft brown pulp. (When extricated in its entirety, the protective netting resembles the fragment of an exoskeleton one would expect to find in a cabinet of curiosities.) The pulp, which has a few large seeds, is similar to a date in texture and color, which is why the Arabs refer to the native Indian fruit as Tamar Hindi (date of India). The flavor of sweet tamarind is familiar yet otherworldly. Woody notes of prune, orange, apricot, black tea and pumpkin evoke the honeyed sweetness of wet autumn leaves; something one does not expect to find in a tropical fruit. A faint trace of tartness lingers in the finish, paying homage to the sour cultivars of tamarind found in India.

I would never have tasted tamarindo if it wasn’t for José and his colorful “Coco Helado” cart. It prepared me for future encounters with tamarind in Worcestershire sauce, chutney and Thai Tamarind Candies that make the mouth water with a simple combination of sour tamarind pulp, sugar, salt and chili. Knowing what true tamarind tastes like ties a string from one flavor memory to the next. It makes me wonder what my next tamarind memory will be...

Notes:

To learn more about the ethnobotany of Tamarind visit Plant Cultures.

For a step-by-step guide on eating fresh sweet tamarind visit Food Mayhem.

Botanical image of tamarind is drawn from Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen.

Image of a broken up tamarind pod by Michelle Krell Kydd.

Select Key Food supermarkets sell Wangderm Brand sweet tamarind in the refrigerated section. Wangderm Brand’s distributor, Vasinee Food Corporation, introduced the product at this year’s Fancy Food Show in New York City.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fragrant Rituals: Chemex Coffee

“Coffee should be black as Hell, strong as death, and sweet as love”--Turkish Proverb

The alarm clock rings at 5:30 a.m. It’s dark and quiet. The kitchen refrigerator enters a cooling cycle and broadcasts a familiar melodious hum. The ingredients for a coffee breakfast wait inside the door. A single tug of the handle and the long strips of foam tape that insulate the frame of the refrigerator door are released from their conjoining magnetic sleep. The refrigerator light goes on and it’s the only light that illuminates the room.

A sleepy hand takes out a canister of coffee beans and deposits it on the kitchen counter next to a curious hourglass-shaped carafe corseted by a wooden frame and tied with a simple piece of rawhide adorned by wooden beads. The device is a Chemex®, a uniquely designed coffee maker found in the kitchens of coffee purists who take Masonic pride in owning a kitchen appliance displayed in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Electric coffee makers corrupt coffee’s flavor—a cardinal sin and olfactive sacrilege of the highest scientific order. With .1% volatile flavor components coffee is the most aromatic substance on earth. The smell of coffee tells the brain that an awakening is about to transpire and creates a revivifying prelude. The pot warmer of an electric coffee maker destroys many of coffee’s 800 fragrant constituents. No thank you. I will take my pyrazines, furans, vanillin and tri-syllabic molecules straight up; you can leave overdone blackened coffee to the devil.

Morning light rises on the autumn horizon. Even the sun knows it’s time for coffee. I fill a pot with four cups of filtered water and set it on the burner. The flinty click of the pilot ignition makes staccato sounds that resemble the snapping fingers of a flamenco dancer. There is something comforting about crown of blue flame on the burner that is familiar and mesmerizing. I flip the light switch and reach inside the cabinet next to the stove where the unbleached Chemex® filters are kept. You’ll never see white coffee filters in my kitchen because bleached filters leave an aftertaste in coffee that distorts its delicate flavors. Unbleached filters have a natural vanilla odor (think wet paper shopping bags in the rain) that complements coffee, which is why they are always the right choice.

Fitting the square-shaped paper filter into the top of the Chemex® is a pleasurable act of minimalist origami. The filter, which comes folded in quarters, is opened so that one layer is separated from three, forming a shape that looks like an upside down sail or the exaggerated mouth of a hungry bird. The filter is nestled into the top of the Chemex® in preparation for the addition of coffee grinds. I have a very specific ritual for measuring and grinding coffee beans and can do it in my sleep; four tablespoons of beans, three grinds and three short pulses. Coffee ground for a Chemex® is slightly finer that coffee prepared for an electric drip coffee maker. This is because the first step in making coffee in a Chemex® involves the “blooming” of the beans.

The kettle whistles and the flame is turned off. I steady the weight of the pot in my right hand and add enough boiling water to cover the coffee grinds. This process allows the grinds to swell and prepares them so they can release their flavor with additional infusions in boiling water. Small iridescent bubbles form on top of the wet grinds as the aroma of coffee begins to fill the kitchen. The wet grinds look like flourless chocolate cake batter.

When the water settles to the bottom of the carafe the first of two rounds of boiling water are slowly added to the Chemex®. The perfume of coffee intensifies with each pouring and gets in my hair as I inhale the fragrant steam that rises from the top. How does the perfumer keep his nose out of the alembic, I wonder? Why would anyone want to brew coffee any other way? I reach for a coffee cup handmade by a local potter. It is shaped like a short drinking cauldron and keeps the coffee warm. I pour the first cup. Steam rises and curls upwards as if a message could be found in the vapors. I cradle the cup in my hands anticipating the first sip.

Notes:

Chemex coffee makers and brewing supplies can be purchased at Sweet Maria's.

If you want to learn more about the sensory evaluation of coffee Ted Lingle's The Coffee Cupper's Handbook is highly recommended. It is priced at $38.00.

Image of Chemex from The Coffee Roaster.

Image of Chemex filter from I Need Coffee.

Image of Coffee Bean Roasts from Sweet Maria's.

Image of Coffee Flower by Tim Wilson.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Crumiri: Cornmeal, Vanilla & Memory

My father introduced me to fire when I was seven years old. He watched over me as I stood on a step stool and cracked two eggs in a pan. The familiar popping and crackling sounds that define the melody of fried eggs began, followed by a soft cacophony of squealing that resembled the chatter of hungry baby chicks. I asked my father if he could hear the chicks under the pan lid. He smiled, making several attempts to conceal his laughter. When the eggs were done I turned down the flame, opened the lid and slid two sunny-side-up eggs onto my plate.

My father was a better eater than a cook. When he chose to prepare a meal he had a hodgepodge style of assembling savory dishes that involved caramelizing onions before adding potatoes, meat and any appropriate leftovers he could find. Dad never indulged in pastry making but there was one unusual exception; cornmeal dough designed for catching carp. My father had a precise method for cooking the bait so it would form a firm, but malleable ball when it was finished. The recipe was simple; one cup of water, one cup of cornmeal, one tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon of pure vanilla extract. Vanilla, according to my father, was the magic ingredient that lured carp. On one occasion my mother, who regularly used vanilla to bake cookies and cakes, chastised my father for using the “good vanilla” in his bait formula. While searching for an alternative a European butcher he knew recommended powdered vanillin, an assertive artificial vanilla used by bakers to add creamy vanilla flavor to pastry. Vanillin powder was a hit with carp which left my mother with a new dilemma; she had more fish to clean.

On May 30, 2009 I lost my 82-year-old father to pancreatic cancer. I am filled with comfort each time his spirit visits me through memory. How and when these moments occur is not predictable, but they are most intense when I am around food or nature; two of his great loves that were generously passed down to me. The story you are reading is the result of a blotter of vanillin I smelled while in perfumery class at Givaudan in September. One whiff and I instantly remembered the smell of my father’s carp bait cooking, the way he shaped the dough in his hands and how his hazel eyes gleamed when he said it was good enough to eat. I wanted to find a way to immortalize that memory with something I could eat. The resulting search led to crumiri, a Piedmontese cookie made with cornmeal. Crumiri can be flavored with a variety of extracts and spices; just like a master dough. Piping the cookies is the traditional manner in which crumiri are shaped, but I chose to roll the cookies individually by hand in order to enter into communion with the memory of my father shaping his cornmeal dough.

Glass Petal Smoke’s recipe for crumiri has a digital lineage that begins with Father Giuseppe Orsini's Italian Baking Secrets, migrates onto the pages of Ivonne's Cream Puffs in Venice and finally lands on Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate & Zucchini website. I have modified Ms. Dusoulier’s recipe to suit my tastes and memories. Since the cookie is Italian in origin and cornmeal is yellow, it seemed appropriate to add Italian bergamot (Citrus bergamia) for a bright twist.* Food grade essential oil of bergamot for this recipe was obtained from a flavorist. One and one half teaspoons of lemon extract will deliver superior results if you don’t have access to food grade bergamot.

Crumiri
Yield: 4 dozen

Ingredients:
· ½ cup (plus 5 tablespoons) unsalted Land O’ Lakes Butter, at room temperature
· ½ cup (plus 3 tablespoons) organic cane sugar
· 2 large eggs, at room temperature
· 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
· 10 drops of food grade Italian bergamot oil (or 1½ teaspoons of lemon extract)
· zest of one organic lemon
· 2 cups Hecker’s All-Purpose Flour
· 2/3 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
· ½ teaspoon non-iodized sea salt
· ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Instructions:
· Divide oven racks into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F.
· Line two baking sheets with unbleached parchment paper and set aside.
· Soften butter in the microwave for 50 seconds. It should be partially melted (not warm) when it is done.
· Cream together butter, bergamot oil (or lemon extract), lemon zest and sugar. In a separate bowl beat the two eggs and vanilla. Add the butter mixture to the egg mixture and incorporate.
· In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, nutmeg and cornmeal. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and incorporate.
· Shape one teaspoonful of dough at a time by placing it between your hands and rolling it between the centers of your palms, pressing down very slightly. Place onto baking sheet in rows of four.
· Bake for 15 minutes, turning and reversing trays from top to bottom at 7.5 minutes and continuing to bake for another 7.5 minutes or until slightly golden around the edges.
· Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
· Store in an airtight container.

Notes:

*Italian Bergamot essential oils found in health food stores or online aren’t necessarily food grade. Find a reputable stockist that states that the essential oil of bergamot they sell is cold-expressed from the peel and food grade. Enfleurage in NYC is a good source. Dose conservatively as food grade essential oils are highly concentrated.

Cornmeal dough recipes are commonly shared among carp anglers, but claims regarding ingredients that give the bait its power vary with folkloric regularity. One angler cites several ingredients common to perfumery including; bergamot, cumin, fennel, lavender, lovage, sweet birch, orris root, peppermint, rue, tonka bean, wintergreen and valerian. Carp have a highly developed sense of taste and smell which contributes to their survival as bottom feeders.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my father, Paul Krell, born Perec Krell in Brzeziny Poland on May 1, 1927. Brzeziny was named for the town's numerous birch trees and was home to a blossoming textile industry that gave birth to many generational tailors. My father was one of those tailors. As a young man he survived Auschwitz as a child laborer, making uniforms for prisoners in the concentration camps. He was interviewed by Beth B. Cohen in "Case Closed: Holocaust Survivors in Postwar America," a book about the immigrant experience and post-DP life of Holocaust survivors.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chuao Firecracker Chocopod: Chocolate for the Senses

A Chuao Firecracker Chocopod invites suspicion at first glance. A connoisseur would never consider eating premium Venezuelan dark chocolate blended with “pop rocks”. Chocolate doesn’t need gimmicks that are so sacre bleu, so yesterday's El Bulli, so ridiculously infantile. Warning: the first time you eat a Chuao Firecracker Chocopod be prepared to eat those doubting words.

Chocolate lovers are used to cacao bars that play on complementary and contrasting textures using ingredients like nuts, dried fruit and crisped rice. Adding compressed carbon dioxide crystals to chocolate creates an inverse experience of “crunch” because you don’t have to bite down to experience tactile sensations; the presence of water in your mouth act as a catalyst for passive mouthfeel (an extension of the sense of touch). Touch isn't the only sense activated in the Chuao Firecracker Chocopod experience; you can hear the carbon dioxide crystals popping when the chocolate melts inside your mouth.

To fully embrace the effects of a Chuao Firecracker Chocopod follow this cardinal rule; no biting. Begin by placing a small piece of chocolate on the tongue, allowing it to melt slowly. You’ll notice the heat of chipotle chili as it gently grazes the tongue and mingles with the distinctive flavor of dark Venezuelan chocolate. Compressed carbon dioxide crystals snap and crackle as the chocolate melts, creating the sensation of 1000 little fingers tickling the taste buds. This feeling causes most first-time “Firecracker” eaters to cover their mouths in order to stop themselves from laughing out loud. Others smile pensively as they try to get inside the tasting experience for the first time. There are a brazen few who wonder what it would be like to kiss someone with the candy inside their mouth.

Chuao Firecracker Chocopod is more than a novelty; it's a chocolate lover's excuse to indulge in playful connoisseurship. The pleasure of eating a "Firecracker" is just as thrilling as watching someone having the experience for the first time. If this qualifies as a type of confectionery voyeurism, so be it. No one is going to arrest you.

Notes:
While you’re on the Chuao Chocolatier site consider trying the Chuao Salted Chocolate Crunch Bar, another Glass Petal Smoke favorite. One bite and you’ll ditch that old “crunch bar” jones for a new and improved version that uses Japanese Panko breadcrumbs in lieu of crisped rice.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Geometry of Perfume’s Future

Fragrance marketers will resort to “gifts with purchase” and nail biting as they watch sales numbers move into the end of the calendar year. No matter what the outcome, searching for signs of recovery in profit and loss statements will not yield solutions to fundamental paradigm shifts. The perfume category is diluted with smell-alike fragrances, functional products for the home and hyper regulation. Bloggers have become virtual beauty advisers for fragrance connoisseurs and search engine users, challenging the mettle of those who sell at-counter and online. Popular opinion clings to proven growth in luxury niche, but that is only a part of the potential for an upturn.

Great creations are inspired by artistry that pushes boundaries, imagination that riffs on common notions and shatters them, reconfiguring the fragments so that every finished fragrance released resonates with another; not in sameness, but in thoughtfulness that engenders respect for the art of perfumery and results in a consumer’s desire to purchase fragrance. Flankers and celebrity fragrances have become archetypal extensions of the scene in the Wizard of Oz that unmasks the “great and powerful Oz” as an ordinary person (note the latest lawsuit between Abercrombie & Fitch and Beyonce Knowles regarding her fragrant collaboration with Coty). Consumers have a distinct advantage when the curtain is drawn and the impostor is revealed; marketers need to know what existing and potential fragrance consumers want. This could potentially give loyal fragrance fans the power to determine the destiny of the category; the playing field is level and everyone has a pair of ruby slippers.

Where will inspiration for future fragrances come from? Many will be born out of carefully orchestrated synesthetic experiences that complement the sense of smell and reach beyond the gourmand approach of mixing appetizing aspects with aromatic ones. New accords and fragrance families will enter the olfactive palette enhancing emotion via the five senses. Fragrance will literally touch the consumer utilizing warming, tingling, and cooling sensations (the term “haptics” is already nudging its way into the olfactive vocabulary). Believable storytelling will infuse fragrance marketing with elements that are authentic, timeless and educational. Lastly, the paradox of collective individuality will be explored against a global canvas that encourages and respects cultures of difference; an extension of the effects of social media.

There is a wonderful example in architecture that illustrates the geometry of perfume’s future. The concept of patterning in tile work relates to the way shapes can fill a space (something akin to the way raw materials are combined to create a diffusive scent). Geometric forms that are common to traditional Islamic ornamentation appear in mesmerizing, elaborate, non-repeating patterns of ornament. These forms support the overall ornamental structure, as illustrated in the architecture of the roof of the tomb of Hafez, a famous Persian poet (note the turquoise star form).

There is a common characteristic in girih (ornate tile work) that permits non-repeating patterns to be aligned in large-scale works; one edge of each tile used in the tile work must be the same length as that of all of the other tiles used. If one considers the architecture of fragrance, there is a lesson that can be inferred by comparing it to ornamental structure; by limiting the number of repeated patterns in perfumery and creating structures that support signature we can liberate olfactive possibilities and introduce myriad creations. It is an approach that is desperately needed if the industry is to survive the hari-kari hand it may have dealt itself.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Proust Revisited: Madeleines and Lime Blossom Tea

The only thing that came between the narrator of Remembrance of Things Past and his madeleine was lime blossom tea. It seeped into buttery crevices, engorging the sponge-like texture of the petite scalloped tea cake before exploding into precious pearls of memory on the tongue. Finding a great madeleine recipe can be as challenging as sourcing artisanal lime blossom tea, but the effort is worthwhile. There's no substitute for indulging in a freshly baked madeleine dipped in a cup of genuine Carpentras tilleul. Glass Petal Smoke shares a personal madeleine recipe and a reliable tea source so Proustian ecstasy can be yours.

Lime blossom, also known as linden blossom or tilleul in French, is a source of tea and monofloral honey. The best tilleul comes from the village of Carpentras in Provence and has become difficult to procure due to a decline in production. Cheap and poor quality tilleul produced in China and Europe continues to threaten French cultivation and harvest, and has resulted in substandard lime blossom tisanes in the marketplace. (A poor example is Pompadour brand with notes of astringent hay and a flat, urine-like bouquet.) Harney and Sons Teas carry genuine Carpentras tilleul which is conveniently packaged in bags or loose in tins. The tea has woody notes of chamomile, honey and a nascent white floral note that is distinctly reminiscent of spring.

The sensation of drinking hot tea is universal. One feels the infusion gliding down the throat, warming the body in a shroud of comfort. Imagine the sensation of Proust’s tilleul against this description of eating a madeleine in Swann's Way, the first book in the seven-volume set of Remembrance of Things Past:

“I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.”

One taste of a fresh madeleine dipped in a cup of Carpentras tilleul and communion with the narrator of Swann's Way is imminent. Orange Blossom Madeleines have a gentle touch of floralcy that complements a variety of black teas so feel free to experiment with beauties like Darjeeling and Keemun.

Orange Blossom Madeleines
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
Yield: 24

Ingredients:
· 2 ½ cups Arrowhead Mills Whole Grain Organic Pastry Flour
· ½ tsp. baking powder
· ½ tsp. sea salt
· ½ tsp. Ceylon “true” cinnamon (milder than cassia cinnamon, very important)
· 1 ½ tbsp. Cortas® Orange Blossom Water
· 5 threads of saffron bled in one teaspoon of warm water
· 4 large organic eggs (room temperature)
· 4 large organic egg yolks (room temperature)
· 1 ½ cups of organic cane sugar
· 2 tsp. vanilla extract
· Grated zest of 1 large organic orange
· 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter (melted and cooled to room temperature)

Instructions:
· Divide oven racks into thirds.
· Using an oven thermometer to ensure proper temperature, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
· Lightly brush two madeleine pans with melted butter or grapeseed oil.
· Sift flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.
· In a large bowl mix whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar (thoroughly by hand or with a mixer set on medium speed). Incorporate vanilla, orange blossom water and saffron.
· Gently fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture.
· Add melted butter and incorporate.
· Using a tablespoon fill each mold until three-quarters full.
· Set one tray on each rack and bake for 15 minutes, gently reversing trays from top to bottom and front to back after 7 ½ minutes to ensure even baking. When done, madeleines will be golden brown and spring back when you touch them.
· Allow cookies to cool on a wire rack. Any remaining batter can be baked using re-prepped cookie trays.
· Serve madeleines immediately or store in an airtight container and consume within three days.

Notes:
The Spice House in Chicago carries a wonderful Ceylon cinnamon that is rich in citrus tones. Cassia cinnamon, which is commonly sold in supermarkets across the U.S., is much stronger than the Ceylon variety called for in the Orange Blossom Madeleines recipe. A half-cup jar is $5.18. Phone: 847-328-3711

Kelly Gibson wrote "On the Trail of Tilleul" in the Spring 2009 edition of Gastronomica. Order the reprint for $12 or subscribe to the journal for $50 a year.

Photo of linden blossom by Ariane Cauderlier of Giverny News.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Multisensory Products: Korres Lip Butter

Crayola Crayons are responsible for aiding and abetting more makeup habits than many women will admit. At the age of five Crayola taught me that bigger was better when it came to color possibilities. Back then a box of 72 colors was considered colossal; today the Telescoping Crayola Crayon Tower puts the crayon count at 150. I am grateful for the fact that I knew the difference between Burnt Sienna and Raw Umber at an early age, but my informal education in the subtleties of color has led to an insatiable lipstick habit. I admit to being coutured by color, but like all women I am captivated by the way lipstick feels when you put it on, as well as how it tastes and smells.

Gone are the days when Carmex was the only option for a stimulating lip balm experience (due to the use of Camphor, Menthol and Phenol). DuWop can take credit for single-handedly introducing the sensation of tingling in lip products with Lip Venom, which utilizes essential oils of Cinnamon, Wintergreen and Ginger to plump lips and create a telltale tingle similar to the aftereffect of being kissed. Next to color and wear, the sensate properties of lipstick compel consumers to collect lip products and create an adult version of the giant Crayola box in their makeup drawers.

How a lip product makes a consumer feel is just as important as how it performs. The naturals trend and the state of our recovering economy have combined to create a demand for products that enhance rather than hype the color and shape of the lips. This has resulted in numerous natural lines that evangelize washes of color and that just “bitten” look (sounds vampiresque, but we are talking about lipstick here so biting applies). Korres has released a line of lip butters that wake up the Crayola instinct; purchase one and you have an insatiable desire to purchase the whole line. The $9.00 price point makes chasing down a complete palette of color an affordable luxury.

Korres Lip Butter is an eco-chic product that speaks in a perfumista’s parlance. The colors, in order of intensity are; Guava, Jasmine, Mango, Pomegranate, Quince, Plum and Wild Rose. In addition to adding a touch of transparent color to the lips, the product acts as an effective cheek tint (with the exception of Guava and Jasmine). Aroma plays a role in Korres’ Lip Butter formulations and is executed with a light and sophisticated hand; in other words, no saccharine Bonnie Bell Lip Smacker effects.

In the coming months you will see cosmetic brands releasing multisensory products that enhance the color experience. Lips are the most sensitive part of the human body so the uptrend will be easy to relate to and experience. Glass Petal Smoke expects this to branch out into fragrance, with products that heat, cool and tingle. This summer L’Occitane introduced Citrus Verbena Sorbet Body Cream a limited-edition moisturizer that dispenses a cooling sensation on contact with skin. Get it while you can. With its fresh unisex scent it’s foreplay in a jar.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Readers Write: Hermes Bel Ami

People who know me or meet me for the first time often request fragrance recommendations. I take these inquiries seriously as fragrance is an intimate experience that affects the senses of the wearer and those in their immediate vicinity. After a few lifestyle and fragrance history questions, I can intuitively meet the seeker’s request. There are occasions when one fragrance begs to be worn and no other will do. When Steve Carroll, a fellow Metro North commuter, made his request, the perfect match was instantly clear; Bel Ami by Hermès.

Steve Carroll has a no-holds-barred attitude. He is quick-witted, well-read and can be absolutely hysterical while maintaining a straight face. Steve also has a serious side, which as a woman, I key into quickly; it’s an endearing quality that lives under a tough exterior. He is one of the few married men I know who loves to shop and dresses impeccably. His collection of hats is renowned and they complement a few pairs of rather fabulous boots (a personal weakness on my part, but we’ll save that for another blog post).

I’ll never forget this encounter. I was on the 5:59 Hudson line train and just a few short stops from the town of Hastings-on- Hudson, where I live. The train was traveling against a colorful summer sunset when suddenly someone from the back of the car exclaimed “Michelle Krell Kydd, I love you!” I was a bit perplexed and slightly embarrassed because I could not see the face behind the voice. I live in a small town in Westchester. These sorts of things can quickly lead to rumors.

I looked behind my seat and saw Steve’s telltale hat a few aisles away. Those who know him would not start rumors, I thought. Those that didn't, well, suffice to say I felt an undeserved scarlet letter “A” beginning to burn on my chest. The fact that I accepted a ride in his PT Cruiser convertible after the fact was probably not the smartest thing I ever did; grist for the rumor mill. What ensued for the duration of the ride was a non-stop love letter to Bel Ami by Hermès. Steve found a part of himself in the bottle and it was obvious that the scent was a perfect fit.

It’s been at least three years since that charming incident. The memory recently resurfaced when I received this email from Steve:
“Remember me...Steve Carroll...lover of the dulcet tones of your voice...fascinated by any words that come out of your mouth? Anyway, hi! How are you? You've ruined my life. Remember you turned me on to Hermès' Bel Ami? Well, it’s my favorite scent and I always bought it discounted online. Well now it seems Hermès is limiting production so the only way I can get it is to pay the full $120 freight either direct from Hermès, or at Neiman Marcus etc. which as a frugal man with great taste and common sense I cannot do. (I would usually pay $40 to $55 online.) So I need you to be a perfume expert and look at the notes that comprise this delicious scent and tell me what is similar out there. Can you do that for me? I look forward to your incredibly informed response”.
I did not want to encourage another gray market purchase and contacted Hermès with regard to Bel Ami’s availability. I responded to Steve prior to receiving a response from Hermès:
"Let me see what I can find out. In the meantime, I can recommend that you smell something that is, unfortunately, at the same price point as Hermès' Bel Ami, however, it is one of the best composed fragrances I have ever smelled. The key ingredient is Vetiver. Extremely seductive, so if you are thinking about having a second child (or just going through the motions) you might enjoy it. Encre Noir by Lalique. P.S. No gray market on this fragrance, which means very few men in the vicinity of your scent trail will be able to touch its magnificence and compete with your indefatigable mojo.”
As it turns out there are no issues regarding Bel Ami’s availability in-store, which is a sign that the brand has a tighter reign on distribution and quality. Gray market product, though less expensive, can be old, improperly stored or counterfeit, so I never recommend it (it’s also why you don’t see Google ads populating the pages of Glass Petal Smoke). A true luxury company respects the heritage of its brand and the products it creates under its namesake. Case in point: Hermès returned to the house perfumer model before the notion was retrofitted by other fragrance companies.

In 2005, I met with house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena at Hermès’ offices in New York City and still treasure this precious moment; looking at the formula for Un Jardin Sur Le Nil that the perfumer had written in an orange Moleskin notebook on a plane ride home. It’s a moment I will never forget and the reason why Glass Petal Smoke is of the opinion that Hermès deserves to be supported financially because they support the art of perfumery; something that has been forgotten by many major perfume brands.

Notes:

Steve Carroll is currently in possession of a genuine bottle of Bel Ami by Hermès, courtesy of Hermès. He might be persuaded to try Encre Noir by Lalique; a sample of this is now available to him, courtesy of Aedes de Venustas.

This article about Jean Claude Ellena appeared in the New Yorker on March 14, 2005. It’s a great read and offers insight into the perfumer’s world.

According to the Hermès website, the notes in Bel Ami include, "An audacious mix of cardamom, amber, patchouli and leather." Glass Petal Smoke's nose also detects Vetiver.

Bel Ami was inspired by Guy de Maupassant's second novel. It has the flavor of a detective story and can be found here. Bel Ami means "beautiful friend" in French.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kiehl's Vetiver Essence: A Case Study for Countering Hyper Regulation?

This month I received a bottle of vintage Kiehl's Vetiver Essence from Regina Joskow. (Regina is the daughter of Aldona Joskow, the subject of the post Perfume Memories: Mitsouko). The two of us grew up together and were perfumistas before the word ever passed between anyone's lips. We reconnected over dinner at Salam, a setting befitting our passion for fragrance as perfume was born in the Middle East. Despite the passage of time each of us can still rattle off a list of every scent we have ever worn or purchased. Two ingredients remain perennial favorites; Vetiver and Patchouli.

When L'Oreal announced it was buying Kiehl's in 2000, Regina bought every single bottle of Kiehl's Vetiver Essence she could get her hands on (she may have single-handedly wiped out any remaining stock available online). The genie is still in the bottle she gave me. The Vetiver has grown rich and earthy over time, maintaining a distinctive, sweet grass-like character that turns me into jelly every time I smell it on myself or a man (dark chocolate and saffron have the same effect so if the three are ever combined I will be a slave to the provocateur). Kiehl's Vetiver Essence smells like a combination of Bourbon Vetiver (leathery) and Haitian Vetiver (smoky); the same combination that is used in Lalique's Encre Noire (created by Firmenich perfumer Nathalie Lorson).

In the days of yore, Kiehl's packaged all of its "Essences" in a sealed plastic bag with a warning that never stopped shoppers or gave lawyers a reason to fear litigiousness:
THE USE OF PURE ESSENCES
AND THEIR POSSIBLE SKIN EFFECTS

The susceptibility of persons to pure essences varies from individual to individual.

From time to time, susceptible individuals can experience a rash, desensitization, or a temporary discoloration of the skin areas where the pure concentrated essences have been applied.

Sun exposures greatly increases this sensitivity of the body towards certain essences.

We therefore wish to advise users of pure essences to determine their own sensitivity by using the pure essences in unexposed areas and in very small amounts until each person finds and is satisfied with their own tolerance level.

Anyone can be sensitive, and in the case a sensitivity is noted, please discontinue use until the reaction returns to normal, or sun exposure is minimized, or in the case of extensive sensitivity, discontinue the use of the concentrated essence totally.

Colognes or perfumes are far less concentrated and should not cause any such reaction. However, always be alert for any such skin reaction at all times.
With the EU and IFRA's hyper regulation of raw materials, one wonders why this type of warning cannot be included on all fragrance products. Warnings appear on a variety of consumer products and encourage safety and enjoyment in the product experience. Glass Petal Smoke believes that warning labels will not stop fragrance lovers from indulging in the art of perfumery. Ignorance and hyper regulation will.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Olfactive Oakmoss Exhibition at Cabinet in Brooklyn

The hyper regulation of oakmoss in fine fragrance makes this event/exhibition too good to miss.

Date: July 18—August 8, 2009
NY Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Saturday­, 12-6 pm, & by appt.

Opening Reception: Saturday, July 18, 6-8 ­pm
Artist Talk: Saturday, July 18, 5-6 pm

Cabinet is pleased to announce the opening of Recent addition to the permanent collection, an invisible modification of the Cabinet event space by Nadia Wagner that invokes change, decay, and prestige via the use of a signature of the scent of oakmoss.

Oakmoss (Evernia prunastri) is a natural lichen which has a very lovely, smooth, and slightly musty odor. Highly sought after as an ingredient in perfumes in the nineteenth century, the use of natural oakmoss declined after 1898, when a single part of its odor profile, Evernyl, was isolated and synthesized for the first time and became an ingredient in a range of famous 1920s perfumes and, via the vagaries of cold war fashion, 1970s men's colognes.

Oakmoss itself is no longer easily available in commercial quantities. It grows chiefly in old stands of oaks, moldering slowly in very still groves. It has been close to unobtainable since 1986, as many of the best remaining natural sources are deep in the Ukraine, around a small town called Chernobyl.

Evernyl, for its part, remains a staple of the flavor and fragrance industry. Also known as Mousse Metra, Veramoss, or more rigorously, methyl 2,4-dihydroxy-3,6-dimethylbenzoate, the scent of Evernyl was described in Stephan Jellinek's classic technical text Perfumery: Practice and Principles with a single, oddly untechnical word: "dusty". He elsewhere classifies it as erogenic, in accordance with his unusual application of Freudian theory to the sense of smell.

For her installation at Cabinet, Nadia Wagner will be bombing the building with Evernyl, a scent that is much stranger and more persistent than the landlord has been led to expect.

In her artist talk preceding the opening, Wagner will be presenting and explaining a library of ninety scents, some attractive—such as Cis-3-Hexanol, the smell of fresh cut grass—and some less attractive, such as Skatole, the smell of feces, and Costus, the smell of dirty hair.

Cabinet kindly requests that patrons refrain from wearing any perfume or fragrance to this exhibition.

About the Artist: Nadia Wagner is researching the classification of odors, the relationship between odor and space, and its applications to architecture and design. Her article, “Notes on Scent,” on the problem the sense of smell poses to description, appeared in issue 32 of Cabinet Magazine. She teaches at the College of Fine Arts, the University of New South Wales, Sydney, and has also exhibited her work in Beijing, Edinburgh, and Berlin.

Notes:

Invisible Architecture: Experiencing Places through the Sense of Smell by Anna Barbara and Anthony Perliss is a must-read for anyone interested in the relationship between scent and architecture.

The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses by Juhani Pallasmaa is also highly recommended as it emphasizes how visual dominance in our culture can prevent the appreciation of spaces in architecture.

Oakmoss is an ingredient in fine fragrance that defines the chypre category of fine fragrance. Fragrance bloggers and their bretheren are of the opinion that hyper regulation of oakmoss is to has led to the destruction of the chypre category. Many classic fragrance formulas have already been turned into shadows of themselves, lacking character and substance. Glass Petal Smoke riffed on this subject in a post titled "I Smell therefore I Blog".

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Scent Culture: In Search of a First Fragrance

I receive emails regularly from readers looking for scents from their childhood. It is a privilege to be on the receiving end of these inquiries as they remind me why the sense of smell is so important. Though we are living in a culture that is predominantly visual, the culture of scent is on the rise. The reason is deceptively simple. When the economy cycles down the desire to live an authentic life rises. The image we have of ourselves can no longer be masked by things we aspire to, but cannot afford. We question who we are, where we come from and where we want to go. Taking steps to play an active role in our life story is what the journey of life is all about. Reading JM’s letter offers a glimpse into the powerful process of self-authentication that scent plays in our lives.

“After reading your blog for the better part of a year, I realize that you are the person I should ask for help. Years ago, there was a VERY down-market cologne for men, made by British Sterling, called "Bitter Lemon." It was so down-market, in fact, that it made a suitable gift to a boy as his first bottle of cologne, the boy being me.

Since scent is hopelessly tangled in memory (or is it vice versa?), I have tried to find this cologne without success for years, never caring that if I were to find it at all, it would be on the shelves of a convenience store or pharmacy. I can still remember the feelings attached to it, and even the books I was reading at the time, almost twenty years ago. I've been drawn to citrus scents ever since, especially in the summer, but have never found an analogue.

Do you have any suggestions for available products, now, that might be close?” Many thanks in advance –JM”

I love this letter! JM is sharing a life “first”. People remember their first fragrance in the same manner they recall learning how to ride a bike or tie their shoes. The reason is that wearing scent is a way to express identity and emotion; it’s how we self-authenticate. Fragrance allows us to travel in the past, present or future. In other words, it tells us who we were, who we are and who we want to be. In America hero worship is a part of the culture. There is nothing wrong with being led by people who have achieved greatness, but in truth, we are each a catalyst of greatness in our own lives. Our choices determine the path we will follow and the rest depends on the intermingling of chaos and coincidence. Scent allows us to use the familiar as a foundation with which to explore the unknown. This is not a theory; it is a fact. Try a new fragrance and see what happens as you decipher your feelings and memories.

In his letter, JM shows that he is looking at who he is as an adult (in the present) through the lens of childhood (the past). Though I don’t know JM, I would venture to guess that he is in a period of transition. He is in touch with memory and looking for meaning. If he finds British Sterling Bitter Lemon, who he is today will mingle with who he was as a boy. The result will be an enlightening and comforting insight that he could not discover without his sense of smell.

When we are young we are attracted to things without complication. We do not analyze things we are drawn to because layers of life experience do not burden us; we are simply happy to be in the presence of an object that gives us joy. If you look at this more closely, you will see that love is no different. Perhaps this is why romance is the foundation of many fragrance fantasies.

British Sterling Bitter Lemon was manufactured by Dana. Though the company is still in business, it no longer makes the scent (as evidenced on the Dana Classics website). From JM’s description British Sterling Bitter Lemon sounds like a classic Eau de Cologne with a twist. The best modern interpretation of an Eau de Cologne is Cologne by Thierry Mugler (2001). Cologne was co-created by Thierry Mugler and Alberto Morillas, the renowned perfumer at Firmenich who won the Prix François Coty in 2003.

Cologne has a sparkling citrus character and an addictive musky drydown. The composition includes Bergamot, Neroli, Petit Grain, Orange Blossom, Green Sap, and White Musk. I’ve recommended Cologne by Thierry Mugler to JM and hope that it serves as a foundation for new memories anchored in what is obviously a charming past.

Notes:

Cologne by Thierry Mugler is available at select stores, including Sephora. Sephora is currently offering a limited edition .8 oz. spray at a $28 pricepoint. Demand is high and stock is limited.