Tuesday, January 27, 2009

James Beard: The Quintessential American Epicure

If you're of the gormandizing ilk there's an event at the New School that should be on your radar. It costs less than a movie and is guaranteed to enlighten your mind as well as your palate.

James Beard: The Quintessential American Epicure
Thursday, February 12, 2009 6:00 p.m.

James Beard, called “the quintessential American cook” by Julia Child, laid the groundwork for the gastronomical revolution that surged in the second half of the 20th century. Beard trained as an actor but found his life’s work in food: he was the author of 27 cookbooks, founded his own cooking school, and made history in 1946 by hosting the first cooking show on television. Anointed the “dean of American cookery” by the New York Times, Beard is now associated with the best in American restaurants and cooking. His most important legacy is his celebration of American food and food traditions. Speakers: Mitchell Davis, vice president of the James Beard Foundation; writers Betty Fussell, Barbara Kafka, and Judith Jones; and Dana Polan, professor of Cinema Studies at New York University. The moderator is Andrew F. Smith, editor of the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink and member of the New School faculty. Location: Wollman Hall, Eugene Lang Building, 65 West 11th Street, 5th floor (enter at 66 West 12th Street).

Admission: $5; free to all students and New School faculty, staff and alumni with ID. Reservations and inquiries can be made by email boxoffice@newschool.edu or calling 212-229-5488.


Special thanks to Andy Smith, for passing the event information along. Mr. Smith is author of Hamburger: A Global History. The book is distributed by the University of Chicago Press and is part of Reaktion Books' "edible" series (which includes books on the history of pancakes and pizza as well).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Strange Fruit: The Flavor and Fragrance of Feijoa

The flavor and fragrance of feijoa defies categorization. On sight, the fruit resembles a cross between an elongated lime and a kiwi. The nose expects to smell something green, but the immediate impression of a feijoa is a tropical mélange that evokes guava, strawberry, pineapple and violet notes. There is something about the green element in feijoa that is at once familiar, yet seemingly incongruous and medicinal. The culprit is methyl benzoate, an ester that is evocative of eucalyptus with wintergreen and berry facets. If you have a keen sense of smell, try sniffing beneath the chocolate, caramel and vanillic elements in the Thierry Mugler classic Angel; you will detect a methyl benzoate effect.

Some perfume lovers aren’t partial to olfactive and gustative combinations in perfumery, and find such contrasting fusions to be rough-hewn. These fusions exist in nature and their successful application in perfumery requires a deft hand. The appeal of gourmand contrasts depends on whether the contrasts create more compatibility than confusion. Champaca Absolute, a new addition to the Tom Ford Private Blend Collection, is an example of a balanced gourmand scent. The fragrance riffs on the mouthwatering fruitiness inherent in champaca (a tropical flower) by utilizing harmonious contrasts of bergamot, cognac, tokaji wine, vanilla bean, amber and marron glacé. A touch of violet lends a powdery quality that sugar dusts the lush floral elements in Champaca Absolute. What keeps this fragrance from becoming a hackneyed fruity floral is a green element that is present on skin throughout the drydown.

Eating a feijoa is a wonderful way to understand the nature of harmonious contrasts via taste and smell. When sliced, the yielding and juicy flesh reveals a jelly-like pulp that is divided into quadrants. The flesh closest to the rind is sweet, creamy and slightly gritty. Feijoas have an ambrosial flavor and taste exactly like they smell. Finding them can be a bit of a challenge as they are native to southern Brazil, northern Argentina, western Paraguay and Uruguay. Feijoas are commercially grown in New Zealand and California, so you may be able to find them at gourmet markets. The fruit can also be ordered from Melissa’s Produce. The cost is $24.95 for ten, plus shipping. For more information call (800) 588-0151.


The image of feijoas comes from Daley's Fruit Tree Blog.

Tom Ford Champaca Absolute is priced at $180 for 50ml and $450 for 250ml. It is available at select Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue stores nationwide.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Scent of Change: Inauguration Day 2009

We’re feeling it in New York and the nation is feeling it too. The scent of change is in the air.

Today is January 19, 2009. Martin Luther King’s Day marks the day before Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States of America. My spell checker wants to call Obama “Osama”—it has been officially re-programmed to know better.

Tomorrow is January 20, 2009. Barack Hussein Obama's inauguration will commemorate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. He will be the first African American President this country has ever had.

It’s a cold winter night. The twinkling snowfall is enchanting and pure. You can bottle a lot of things, but there is no way you can contain the hope and excitement that is running through millions of people tonight. Change is in the air. You can smell it hanging on every brilliant snowflake…

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Penzeys Spices Tuscan Sunset: The Melding of Taste and Sight

Perfumers and spice blenders are highly skilled in the art of combining individual ingredients and cultivating new aromatic effects. Naming a new creation is extremely important as the result must reflect the defining qualities that stir the senses. A name brings a creation to life, providing a reference point and destination. When we have a name for something, we know how to relate to it and share its story. Penzeys Spices Tuscan Sunset is an unforgettable example of the masterful art of spice blending and aromatic appellation.

Tuscany is known for its rich agriculture and a landscape dominated by rolling hills. Its simple and mesmerizing beauty is reflected in the pages of Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, which was made into a movie starring Diane Lane in 2003. Cereal grains, olives and grapes are popular regional crops that support a culture where artisan foods flourish. There is something about the Tuscan landscape that plants itself in the soul of anyone whose feet touches its soil. Tuscany has a magical character and Penzeys has found a way to cultivate its essence in a spice mixture that includes: basil, oregano, red bell pepper, garlic, thyme, fennel, black pepper and anise. The result is an aromatic blend that is verdant, uplifting and bright.

Penzeys' packaging is simple; demure black-capped glass jars affixed with pastel yellow labels. There are no fancy pictures on the labels and the spices are permitted to speak for themselves through the glass. If you’re familiar with the ingredients in the mixture, flavors will begin to form in your culinary imagination as the taste of the blend is anticipated. A palette of colors emerges in the mind in synesthetic response to the colors of the spice mixture. "Harvest Time", a painting of the Tuscan countryside by Kendra Schwabel, echoes a culinary vernacular that is immediately evident in the artist's choice of colors and the way her brushstrokes portray shadow and light. The painting expresses the flavors in Penzeys Tuscan Sunset better than any subjective explanation of ingredients possibly can and inspires admiration for Schwabel's talent.

Tuscan Sunset is recommended as a seasoning for vegetables, chicken, pork or fish. Glass Petal Smoke has discovered another application that is simple and delicious; warm bread drizzled with olive oil, Tuscan Sunset and a layer of fresh ricotta. Buon appetito!


Penzeys Tuscan Sunset is available in a variety of sizes and can be purchased on their website. To view their catalog, click here. If you are in New York City you can visit Penzeys at the Grand Central Market on 42nd Street.

Looking to increase your knowledge when it comes to herbs and spices? Aliza Green's Field Guide to Herbs & Spices packs an incredible amount of information in a pocket-sized book. If you can't find what you're looking for in the book, the author encourages you to visit her website and let her know.

Kendra Schwabel’s paintings may be purchased via her website. The image of “Harvest Time” is protected by copyright. Rights remain with Kendra Schwabel Designs.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Scent Opera at the Guggenheim Museum

Stewart Matthew has collaborated with perfumer Christophe Laudamiel and composers Nico Muhly and Valgeir Siggurdson to create an opera with an olfactive libretto. Scent and sound will weave a sensory spell before an audience ensconced in the dark.

Show times are Sunday, May 31st and Monday, June 1st at 7:30 PM. Tickets are priced at $30 ($25 for members and $10 for students). The museum is located at 1071 Fifth Avenue (at 89th Street). For more information, download the Spring 2009 "Works and Process" brochure on the museum's website.

Monday, January 5, 2009

In Memory of Karin Berg 1936-2006

Those of you who read Glass Petal Smoke regularly may have noticed Karin Berg's name in the dedication on the bottom of the page. Karin Berg was a personal friend who was born on January 5, 1936 and passed away on October 26, 2006. Her spirit has interesting ways of showing up in my life, especially on her birthday.

I just finished writing a letter to fellow blogger Caitlin Shortell, editor of Legerdenez, when Karin's memory bubbled up. After I finished the note I remembered it was Karin's birthday. The first online article I wrote appeared in the January 5, 2007 edition of Bois de Jasmin. The timing wasn't planned, but it was one of many synchronous things that happened on that day. I don't question this kind of "coincidence". There are some things in life that don't need explanation or proof, times when it's best to savor the flavor of mystery.

Though you may not have known Karin, you probably listened to many of the bands she signed to major record labels like Warner Brothers. I remember REM's first gig at Madison Square Garden because Karin invited me to join her (she signed them after they spent their indie years on IRS Records). There was a party after the show and I wound up cavorting with musicians and drinking beer with the B-52s in a Mexican bar in Tribeca. The list of talent Karin Berg recruited is miles long. Reading about her memorial service in The Villager gives you an idea of how many lives (and music collections) she touched.

Food was a big part of our friendship. I baked cookies for Karin regularly and she was hooked on Chocolate Voodoo Love, a spice cookie I invented that uses ingredients common to perfumery. This prompted a serious discussion that included the possibility of sending me to The French Culinary Institute for a degree in pastry arts (although I declined). Towards the end of her life Karin suffered from myositis, a degenerative disease with no known cure. As the disease progressed she found it hard for to breathe and needed the assistance of a portable oxygen tank. Hot and humid days were extremely difficult for her, but she refused to stop enjoying life. We had lunch at Fleur de Sel one summer, oxygen tank in tow. One of the fondest food memories I have was enjoying lobster roll with Karin at Mary's Fish Camp. I've managed to lure many colleagues in the fragrance industry to 64 Charles Street for a mouthwatering taste of lobster salad on a roll served a side of shoestring fries dusted in Old Bay Seasoning. The summer before she died, Karin and I ate our last meal together at her kitchen table; hamburgers and French fries delivered from Florent.

Karin was known for having stellar taste and when it came to perfume Chanel's Cuir de Russie was her holy grail. Though she no longer used fine fragrance (strong scents affected her breathing) she spoke about Cuir de Russie with intense relish. I was motivated to seek out the perfume and was immediately smitten with the scent. Karin was a catalyst in my life, in more ways than I can begin to describe. Though she could be rigorous and challenging at times, she had a way of bringing out the best in you. Perhaps it was this very quality that endeared her to the musicians whose talents she nurtured. In honor of her birthday I'd like to share a poem I wrote back in 2004. It would have stayed hidden in my computer, but there is something about today that is compelling me to release it. Happy birthday, Karin.

Shades of Araby

did you feel the wind
sliding at your heels,
tracing the sunlight
that fell on your ankles,
where the asphalt
meets the curb
and the river

were you lifted
by mingling tiger lilies
and honeysuckle,
beckoning between
bush and bramble,
separating your lips
and sharing your breath?

is it the hudson or araby
that sends us levitating
above pools of
human heartache
and suffering?
what is it
about the water and light
that completes us,
why here?

cipher like a tattoo,
ink sinking
deep into bones,
entwining proximities
until there is no distance
between us.

a single kiss
parts the veil between worlds,
releasing desire
in a sea of dandelion seeds
that whirl softly above the river,
they meet the yielding earth
on the shores of the palisades,
finally home.


Salamander painting by Ian Daniels. The artist's prints are available at Duirwaigh.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Crashing the Clock: Scent and Timelessness

In trades driven by craft and artistry there is no quality more desirable than timelessness. Timelessness transcends boundaries and restores eternity in a world obsessed with “keeping time”, (just stand on the corner of 57th and Park Avenue in New York City and you can witness the cultural mania for time on the façade of Tourneau). There is a distinct hurdle inherent in embracing timelessness. It requires a willingness to embrace the past and the future while living in the present. Where are you when you encounter something timeless? The answer to this question depends on the source. If scent is the source the realities multiply.

Memories and the smells linked to them are activated at first sniff. The past is filtered through the experience of the present as emotions and associations intermingle. An anticipatory state arises that is linked to the expectation that something will be received thorough the act of smelling; be it pleasure or aversion. It is at this point that the mind begins to shape the future. If a scent makes you feel attractive, nostalgic, holy or powerful, you will begin to manifest the associated trait and the signal will be received by others. Past, present and future exist simultaneously in this state, as a variety of archetypes are activated.

Emotions elicited by scent further shape the feeling of time, occasionally intensifying experience to the point where time seems to stand still. This is especially true of scents associated with a loved one who is no longer alive. The deepest emotions we experience as human beings are tied to the sense of smell because of its link to memory. Under the spell of scent we experience something invisible that is tangible to our limbic system and shapes our perceptions. There is no buffer between scent and emotion. You smell something and react immediately, whether you like it or not. In this respect encountering scent crashes the traditional notion of time because a person’s response is drawn from the past, experienced in the present and projected into the future. (Can you hear all of those oversized hairsprings and ratchet wheels at Tourneau clattering onto the sidewalk as the clocks explode in confusion?)

Is there such a thing as a timeless fragrance? In truth, every scent is timeless because of the way fragrance shapes multiple realities. This doesn’t mean that every fragrance is a potential “classic” when it comes to perfumery. If you are a fragrance marketer, you may want to organize a séance instead of a focus group in order to answer this question. Timothy Leary could lead a discussion with Stephen Hawking, David Bohm, Brian Greene, and a few other experts on string theory. Imagine the possibilities. Perfumistas everywhere could throw out their watches and keep time by their noses.

Anyone know a good medium?


For an insightful and entertaining look at the meaning of time, Glass Petal Smoke highly recommends watching the movie What the Bleep do We Know—at least twice.

The website Everything Forever is based on a fascinating book written by Gevin Giorbran. It's a great place to explore the notion of timelessness.

String theorist Brian Greene is the author of The Elegant Universe. The book was turned into a three-hour miniseries on Nova. If you are inclined towards physics (and the unification of quantum mechanics and relativity) the site will keep your brain quite busy.

"Exploding Clock" by Roger Wood. An assortment of imaginative clocks for sale can be found on Klockwerks, the artist's website.

Image of Tourneau from Jewelry and Watch Jobs.