Cheers to Change!

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MixologyYes, I realize we’ve had a brief interlude, but I’ve been a bit tied up working on this.  You’ll also notice that in addition to launching the new biz, the blog was also rebranded to have a similar look and feel. Please don’t be alarmed by that – the content here will still reflect my own personal musings. I’ve additionally been pulling artwork and creating some items for an upcoming Etsy shop, so stay tuned because it will eventually be linked under “Retail Therapy.” As far as food and drink interests go, I’ve once again signed up for my Good Food Collective summer share which will start in June. I’m sure my bags o’ farm market goodness will contain some obscure vegetables for further kitchen experimentation.  I’ve also submitted a few of my vegan recipes for a local event called Veg Out taking place at the end of May. Amidst all things “cray,” I’ve conjured up some new soups, cookies, and cocktails. I figure I’ll start with the booze since we should probably toast to new endeavors and I’ve declared it officially gin season. So if you’re thirsty for a new tipple, give these a whirl since they’ve certainly had a few quality control runs.

Let’s start with a drink based on Hendrick’s Gin with a few interesting additives.  I came up with this one a couple of months ago after a liqueur called Parfait d’ Amour piqued my interest.  Parfait d’Amour is a deep violet color and typically has a flavor profile of orange, vanilla, and floral notes. There are other brands available but I picked the Marie Brizard (link above) brand because it also boasts notes of orange blossom, almond, and rose (I’m also detecting a hint of violet) which I thought would complement the Hendrick’s well. It’s fun going to the liquor store and asking for it. No one knows what the hell it is, so you can certainly amuse yourself with expressions of general confusion from the staff. I decided to name this beauty after a classic perfume from the house of Guerlain due to the similar citrus, vanilla, and powdery floral notes and of course, its distinctive color.

Lady Sensory’s L’Heure Bleue Cocktail L'Heure Bleue

1.5 oz Hendrick’s gin

.5 oz of each:  Blue Curaçao (I use this, procured on my trip to Curaçao),

Parfait d’Amour, and freshly squeezed lemon juice

Dry Champagne (or any dry white sparkling wine)

Sparkling water, seltzer, or club soda

Lemon twist (garnish)

Chill a tall flute or large wine glass. In a cocktail shaker, combine ice, Hendrick’s, Blue Curaçao, Parfait d’Amour, and lemon juice. Shake and strain into chilled glass. Top with equal parts dry Champagne and sparkling water and garnish with a twist. This is simple, pretty, and very refreshing.

The next beverage evolved after researching several different gins I had yet to try. I decided to pick up some Plymouth Gin this past week, which is dry, aromatic, and very well-rounded. It makes for an excellent gin and tonic. In fact, I’m drinking one as I type this, and I’ll be experimenting with a Plymouth martini once I pick up some dry vermouth. Much like Champagne, Plymouth is both a style of gin and protected geographical location for gins produced in Plymouth, England. The only distillery producing it is Black Friars (owned by Pernod Ricard) and there is an image of a small friar on the back of the bottle. I really like this gin and find it to be very versatile. I whipped this one up with some ingredients I had handy and it’s both simple and amazing. This recipe will make two cocktails in rocks glasses.

Lady Sensory’s Oran Juice Jones Cocktail Oran Juice Jones

1.5 oz Plymouth Gin

.5 oz Grand Marnier

Juice of one lemon

1 tsp honey

2 slices and juice from one medium orange (I used a Valencia orange)

Sparkling water, seltzer or club soda

Angostura bitters

Fill two rocks glasses with ice, cut an orange in half and cut two wheels. Over a cocktail shaker, juice the remaining orange, the lemon, and mix in 1 tsp of honey. Add ice to the shaker, the Plymouth Gin and Grand Marnier. Shake and strain into the rocks glasses. Top with bitters and sparkling water. Garnish with an orange wheel.

Yep. I totally named it after this guy. What can I say? We’ve had a lot of rain lately and this tasted just like orange juice. This makes for an excellent brunch or day drink. Cheers to change and happy sipping!

 

Share My Stench

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Serge Lutens and L'Artisan booty!

Serge Lutens and L’Artisan booty!

I’ve been a ‘stinky’ blogger lately. I’m not quite sure where January went, but one of the high points of the month was that this recipe was named a runner-up in the 5th Annual St. Germain Can Can Classic!  Ironically, I won a fancy St. Germain cruiser bicycle (it’s on the way) and a bottle of the delicious elderflower liqueur from France.  I guess I’ll have to teach myself how to ride a bike again after all (see previous post about my failed bicycle attempts in Mexico).

So while we are on the subject of French liqueur, I’ve realized I neglected to cover many of France trip highlights, including one I like to refer to as my ‘Passport to Fragrance.’  I’ve decided that we’re going to do something about that right now.  In junior high, I listened to alternative bands like The Dead Milkmen and used to get a kick out of an obnoxious track called, “My Many Smells,” and the line: “Won’t you come and smell me? Won’t you share my stench?”  I don’t think I envisioned my perfume affinity at the ripe age of 12 or 13. But after twenty years and more flacons than I can recall, I think this song had a rather profound effect on me – even if their idea of stench was more like a college fraternity house or what my hair smells like after several days of hitting the dry shampoo.  So without further ado, I’m going to share my stench with you.

I went to Paris with a very clear agenda: go to the Les Salons Dus Palais Royal Shiseido and buy what is known as a bell jar (and no, not the Sylvia Plath variety – see the pic above).  The apothecary-styled bell jar is generally filled with some exclusive Serge Lutens scent that we poor bastards in the states can’t enjoy unless Monsieur Lutens decides to release it as a limited edition 50 ml spray export.  Since my trip to France, they’ve decided to allow exclusive bell jar purchases to ship to the U.S. Go figure! At any rate, the store looks exactly like it appears on the website, which is great considering I didn’t take a picture.  The doors were open and the sales associates were looking at me like I was some crazy American tourist so I put my camera away (busted!) and got down to business: retail therapy.  I had been pathetically coveting a bell jar for over five years.  I hadn’t had the chance to sniff Sarassins, which has seen described as an “inky jasmine.” I also sampled Fourreau Noir, a lavender-tonka concoction that on the right person (i.e. the sales associate) would smell great but ultimately that wasn’t the one for me.   I liked Sarassins immediately. I’d describe it as a true jasmine with fruity top notes and a lovely base of musk and leather.  The fruity notes remind me of apricots or Osmanthus tea.  The leather note is more suede-like, and similar to the suede note in Daim Blonde. The jasmine is tempered by the fruit, musk and leather which keeps it from going overboard (as in A La Nuit).  It smells gorgeous in the cold January air in New York.  I think frigid weather really does wonders for tropical white florals.  It’s like having a spray vacation.

So after purchasing Sarassins, I had the sales associate dab some Un Lys on me  (my all-time favorite) and I proceeded to exit the store.  I meandered back to the hotel with my purchase and while strolling and successfully avoiding the Jimmy Choo windows (my wallet just couldn’t take that beating), I soon realized that I would have to return to Palais Royal before departing Paris. While the sales associate did me proper in selling me the Sarassins, I just had to have my beloved bell jar of Un Lys. I’m hard pressed to find a better fragrance on my person.  It’s a gorgeous white lily underpinned with greens, vanilla, and musk. It’s simple. Elegant. Classy. Hey, that’s how I roll.  I’ve worn this one from early spring until the tail end of summer. It’s a stunner. Some adjustments had to be made within the travel spending budget to accommodate the extra perfume purchases, but not before I embraced my inner museum nerd.  I sweated and got elbowed by many an Asian tourist while documenting the Mona Lisa.  Can I just say that the Louvre was the most unpleasant museum experience I’ve ever had? No, not the Louvre itself – there are a lot of fine works there.  It was just way too crowded for anyone’s actual enjoyment.  I much preferred the Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée d’Orsay,  Musée de l’Orangerie, l’Espace Dalí, and Musée Matisse.

Upon exiting the Louvre, I spotted the L’Artisan boutique directly across the street. I needed to spray something on myself after feeling as crammed as a sardine in a can.  Plus, I couldn’t risk opening my new bell jars and having them spill all over in transit. Samples of the L’Artisan line could be enjoyed outside without even entering the store, but I was definitely going in. It took all of five hot seconds to know that their summer release of Séville à l’Aube was coming home with Lady Sensory.  No one does an orange blossom like L’Artisan.  They managed to unseat the highly regarded Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger as my top pick for orange blossom in a matter of minutes.  If you haven’t heard the story behind the fragrance, please visit this blog written by the woman whose story inspired it and this blog for a lovely review.  The top notes will hit you with a dose of greens (petitgrain) and then the orange blossom develops and lingers throughout the drydown which is all honeyed lavender and benzoin on me.  This was the fragrance I wore for the remainder of the trip as I moved toward the south of France. I also wore it upon my return and throughout the fall months.  While one might not recommend this for summer due to the drydown, I don’t really find it heavy or cloying. In fact, I find it very clean (not in that boring laundry-musk way) and I get tons of compliments on it.  I wore it yesterday because it hit 60 degrees here and even got some compliments standing in line for some soup at the deli.  The lavender seems to temper the honey and incense notes and the orange blossom keeps the whole thing from tipping into that ambery-oriental/gourmand zone.  I really, truly love this and will always associate it with my brief summer stint on the Mediterranean.  I’ve already used half of my bottle and never want to be without it and yet (of course), it’s in limited production.

While on my visit, I also hit the Fragonard perfume museum (I warned you that I’m a museum nerd) which is kind of near the Opera House in Paris.  I wanted to go to the Fragonard in Eze, but the driver prioritized a Monte Carlo run for all the gamblers on the bus. While some scents were nice at Fragonard, I didn’t find anything that really spoke to me and said, “Take me home!”  But hey, I managed to land three gorgeous bottles of perfume that are unusual enough where I  know I won’t smell them on anyone I know.  I also snagged some amazing high-quality bar soaps from the market in Nice, a lifetime of memories, and some quality pics. So, no complaints here!

Now, some of you might be reading this thinking, “Whoa, crazy lady. You flew across the ocean for perfume?”  Well the answer is both yes and no. I travel because I enjoy experiencing the culture, food, and art in a new place, but olfactory memories are very powerful and if you can capture the essence of that place and time, or a feeling in a bottle (as in Séville à l’Aube) well, why wouldn’t you buy it? And France has a long history of perfumery.  It seemed that perfume would be the perfect souvenir.  And now, some thoughts to ponder when selecting your own personal stench:

1) Don’t buy something because it smells good on someone else without trying it on your own skin.  It will smell different on you because of your chemistry.  Research and try before you buy. Plenty of websites offer reviews of perfume and samples for purchase or swapping (from niche to mainstream).Please reference my breakup with Thierry Mugler’s Angel for more elaboration on that.

2) You don’t HAVE to have a signature scent.  It’s wonderful if you do, but sometimes a seven-year itch is a good thing (again, refer to the Angel breakup).  I went from wearing the same scent every day (a very heavy gourmand) to having a nice collection composed of what I would describe as three distinct fragrance seasons. Experiment! Like food, you’ll be surprised how much your taste can change when exposed to new things.  For every new celebrity fruity-floral, there are several far more interesting fragrances to counteract it. If I hadn’t strayed I would never have smelled all the amazing stuff going on out there in the fragrance industry.

3) Most importantly, wear what YOU like. I wear fragrance for myself. If I get a compliment, well, that’s just a bonus because I’m already in the mindset that I smell great. And it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Whether it’s a $10 drugstore spray or a fancy flacon nearing $200 – when it works, it just works.  Now run along and put your best stench forward…and enjoy a few pics from the parade of museums and perfumeries.

Money Can’t Buy You Happiness But It Can Buy You Ninjas

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So this past weekend I needed to run a few basic errands amidst the Black Friday kooks and managed to haphazardly throw myself together for this excursion (you know, showered and stuff). As I was about to get on the expressway I was confronted with the most gorgeous smell and couldn’t quite figure out where it was coming from.  Slightly sweet, honeyed, smoky and spicy, I sniffed my wrist and realized this lovely stink was coming from me.  You see, I have three seasons of fragrance: tropical white florals, green and white florals and this period somewhere between fall and winter where spices run amuck.  As the seasons have changed, I’ve been sporting some L’Artisan Safran Troublant and have recently revisited the house of Hermès, where Jean-Claude Ellena works his magic as house perfumer. Un Jardin en Méditerranée was becoming a fall staple because nothing reminds me more of the south of France (and I promise – I will get to my fragrant adventures in France shortly).  Over the weekend, I happened to reach for the Ambre Narguilé, which is part of the Hermessence line.  I hadn’t worn it in a couple of years but the mood struck me.  The scent is basically a less-gourmand apple pie in a bottle. It doesn’t smell like fruit – but you get wafts of honey, caramel, cinnamon, and incense on a powdery benzoin base.  It’s sweet without being cloying. I can only wear it on rare occasions,  but I have been enjoying the last few days cloaking myself in it. Did it make me want to bake an apple pie? No. But it did make me want to bake something spicy and despite finding no evidence of ginger in the fragrance notes, I decided I wanted to make gingerbread in a very bad way.

I have a slight gingerbread problem. We have established this already.  I had received some Ninjabread cookie cutters for my birthday.  I hadn’t really baked since I made the nerd cookies and I felt it was time to bake and share my creations.  The cookie cutters came with a recipe inside that I ignored and promptly referred to the gold standard, The Gourmet Cookbook. I made a few tiny adjustments and eschewed the frosting recommendations because I had my own ideas. Although in hindsight I would probably make my mother’s traditional white icing and call these Ginger LaRussos (for those of you who are younger than I am, Danny LaRusso is the character Ralph Macchio played in the Karate Kid). At any rate, smelling good is inspiring. I should shower and scent myself before I deal with the Black Friday freakshows every year.

Lady Sensory’s Killer Ninjabread Cookies  (adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook)

2/3 cup molasses (not blackstrap or  robust)

2/3 cup dark brown sugar (firmly packed)

1 tbsp ground ginger

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp ground cloves

2 tsp baking soda

2 sticks unsalted butter, sliced into tablespoons

1 large egg, beaten

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp salt

3 3/4 – 4 cups all-purpose flour

Cooking spray or butter

Black sanding sugar, black icing (I found ready-made Wilton variety at the store), dried cranberries & red hots (otherwise known as cinnamon imperials) for decoration. Or, make your own icing.

Rolling pin & cookie cutters – I had the ninjas, but standard ginger or any cutter is acceptable. Change up the decorations to suit your mood.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and grease two baking sheets (I actually put parchment on mine and spray the parchment lightly).  In a 4-5 qt pan (or fancy pot), heat molasses, brown sugar, spices until boiling, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. The baking soda is going to do this weird thing where it puffs up like a soufflé.  Disregard this phenomenon and keep going, adding butter 2-3 tbsp at a time, allowing each addition to melt in between. Add vanilla and beaten egg and stir until combined. Then add the salt, then flour, reserving about 1/4 cup. Lightly flour a surface and turn the dough onto in and knead for a few seconds to help it come together. If it’s sticky, add a little more flour as you knead. Separate the dough into two parts, wrap one half in wax paper or plastic and set aside (keep at room temp as you work). As a side note, try not to freak out as you make these. I was whipping this up in my fancy pot wondering if I would ever get the caramel off the Le Creuset. Trust the process. The dough comes together nicely in the end.  Roll one half out until about 1/8″ – 1/4″ thick. Cut your cookies, place on the sheets and apply sanding sugar, red hots and cranberries if you are using them. I put six cutouts on each tray (about 2 inches in between). They don’t expand too much while cooking. Bake cookies for 12 minutes, rotating the trays at around 6 minutes. Keep an eye on them at the 10 minute mark so they don’t burn. Remove from trays and allow to cool. Repeat steps with remaining dough.  Decorate with frosting and any other cookie accoutrements you desire. Allow to set for a few hours before packing and transporting.  Additionally, you can simply shove your face with any that don’t meet quality control standards while you wait.

Now bring the ninjas to your workplace and enjoy everybody kung-fu fighting over them.

Post-Traumatic French Disorder

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View of the Eiffel Tower and Seine River at sunset – Paris, France

I’m back from the motherland or what I should call 1/2 half the fatherland since my mother was English and Welsh.  I didn’t realize how affected I was by my little adventure until I went to the grocery store yesterday and items like camembert cheese, baguette, Niçoise olives, and anchovies found their way into my cart.  Yes, that’s right. I said anchovies.  I also restocked the bar with several French and Riviera-inspired ingredients.  I digress. As promised, I have created a tally of my recent trip to France and I’ll be filling you in on all the details with photos in the coming weeks.

Lady Sensory’s France Tally (or ‘Le Score’)

Croissants: 6

Crêpes: 4

Pain au chocolat: 1

Omelettes: 2

Sandwich (yes, they call it a Sahnd-weeeech): 3.25

Baguette, excluding sandwich: 3

Brie/Camembert: 2

Gouda: 1

Macarons (almond sandwich cookies): 6

Glacé (ice cream/gelato): 3 –  2 pistache (pistachio), 1 banane (banana)

Sorbet: 4 – 1 abricot-carotte (apricot-carrot), 1 rhubarbe (rhubarb), 1 poire (pear), 1 cactus. Yes, I said cactus. It was outstanding!

Olives: approximately 50-60

Salad Niçoise: 1, and it was one of the best damn salads I’ve ever had in my life

Bidets: 1, and no, I didn’t use it

Aperol spritz (Champagne & Aperol): 4

Rosé Champagne: 1 pichet (jug equivalent of 1/2 bottle)

Sauvignon Blanc: 3 pichets

Red wine from Médoc: 1 pichet

Dry rosé. Um. Well. I sort of lost count. So let’s play guess the number of pichets… it was over 3 but less than 10

Art museums: 6

Non-art museums/ tourist attractions: 10

Panhandlers: 27

Metro (subway) musicians (we call them ‘buskers’ here): 7 and 2 actually performed right on the subway car

Languages butchered: 1. Yes, despite several months of Rosetta Stone, someone got a bad case of “stage fright” when called to action. I managed without any French people hating me or being overly rude.  I know my nouns. The rest is a hot mess.

Niche perfumers: 4

Perfumes purchased: 3

Teas purchased: 2

Unnecessary, expensive, classic Grace Kelly green, Monaco hooded sweatshirt purchased in 89 degree weather: 1

Hours sunning myself on the beach: 7

Topless sunbathers: 7. No, I didn’t, but I almost lost my bottom in the Mediterranean.

Epiphanies: 1, very major epiphany and several non-literal slaps in the face.

Number of times lost while wandering around: 8

Cemeteries and dead people: Over six million

Yes, I saw dead people.  I’ll discuss Les Catacombes de Paris at a later date.  In the meantime, you should have an Aperol Spritz to take the edge off before I show you the pics from the crypt.  This drink makes a lovely beachside or poolside accompaniment.  We won’t discuss how much these cost on the Ruhl Plage beach.  Just know that they were worth every penny, whoops, I mean Euro.  Aperol is actually an Italian liqueur, but Nice, France is in close proximity and once belonged to Italy (Savoy and also Sardinia).  So you will find a lot of Italian inspiration in the cuisine and architecture.  If you cannot find Aperol, you can use Campari, since they are both types of bitters but they do have differences in flavor, which you can learn more about here.

Overhead shot of the famous Les Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France

Lady Sensory’s No You Can’t See My Ta-Tas Ruhl Plage Aperol Spritz

2 oz. Brut Champagne (French), Prosecco (Italian) or Cava (Spain), and you can use a Brut Rosé version if you like.

1.5 oz. Aperol

Dash of sparkling water or seltzer

Garnish with a thinly sliced orange wheel

Combine ingredients in flutes, coupes, or you can even serve fancy glasses over ice if you like.

Now remember: bottoms up, and don’t lose your bottoms at the beach!

Stay tuned for more spooky pics from Les Catacombes – Paris, France

I Struggle and Emerge

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Since my idea of ingredient-mixing continues along the lines of: three shots of this, a dash of that, stir and enjoy, I thought we could talk about perfume.  Yep, we’re getting nerdy tonight.  This little ditty is all about what the perfumistas refer to as POTL: a cult-favorite, Luctor et Emergo, by People of the Labyrinths.  People of the Labyrinths is a Dutch fashion label and at the time that I purchased this perfume, it came with the funky mauve and silver silk scarf pictured on the left.  I’m not sure if it still comes with the scarf since I bought this five years ago while on ‘unenjoyment.’  Don’t judge.  I simply needed something to make myself feel better about my life.  Luctor et Emergo apparently means, “I Struggle and Emerge” in Latin.  Can you dig it?  Great.  Because we won’t discuss the other perfumes and samples that were also purchased that didn’t have Latin phrase-equivalents about conquering pathetic times.

Luctor et Emergo has been discussed at great length on many a fragrance site.  Like my old friend, Angel, it appears to be something one either loves or hates.  Those who don’t like it relegate it to the Play-Doh category, which I definitely detected in the Eau de Toilette version.  Those who love it, like myself, probably like the EDP (Eau de Parfum) and can wax poetic all day long about its cherry-tobacco top note, white flowers, and heliotrope, which are grounded by incense, hay, vanilla and woods in the drydown.  I would describe it as a comfort scent.  Despite the notes, which would imply cozy sweaters and chilly weather, it really works well on me in the summer.  In fact, I’m wearing it right now.  It’s a very, very dry fragrance on me and the warm, humid air brings out the hay and white flowers and I tend to get more compliments on it than I would in the winter.  I find its sweet, smoky, resinous nature to be grounding and slightly meditative, particularly in the evenings.  I don’t like it as much in cold weather, when the incense and woods seem to dominate everything else.  

This one doesn’t come cheap, in fact, it’s gone up quite a bit in price since I last purchased it.  I still have half of a bottle and have been doing a great job of hoarding it throughout the years.  I must say that my favorite part of the line is the body cream, which has really gone up in price since my last purchase due to its quality and the popularity.  The cream seems to bring out more of the hay and grassy notes, is extremely fragrant and emollient, and layers beautifully with any vanilla fragrance or the EDP, if you have it on hand.  POTL can be found online at luckyscent and beautyhabit.  You can get samples to try before you buy as well.  It took me about 3 samples before I finally committed to the full bottle.  For me, it’s not an everyday or signature scent, but I can’t imagine my fragrance collection without it.  So in that regard, I consider it very expensive aromatherapy.  Please pardon my nerdy fragrance babble.  Sometimes that happens when Lady Sensory comes in from the pool and gets into the gin martinis.

Lady Sensory Has White Girl Problems

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Our book club has yet to discuss Fifty Shades of Grey simply because the “Book Club Officiant” is annoyed with the book and has yet to finish.  So the book discussion a.k.a. wine-guzzling has been postponed.  In the meantime, I have already finished the second book selection, White Girl Problems, by Babe Walker.  I found it to be a highly amusing and quick read.  I’d describe it as the literary equivalent of Conan O’Brien doing a “What if they mated?” segment with David Sedaris juxtaposed against Paris Hilton.

Babe Walker is not a real person, which is unfortunate, because she’s really entertaining and I bet she would give Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb a run for their money on a morning talk show.  She would have to be censored, of course, but it would be fun to count all the beeps.  Babe Walker was created by Lara Schoenhals, Tanner Cohen and David Oliver Cohen as some sort of book spin-off from a Twitter account.  Crazy, huh?  Hey, whatever works.  I’m not giving anything away when I tell you that my favorite chapter is the one where she has her mental breakdown and spends $246,893.50 in Barneys, which lands her in rehab for her shopping addiction.  I mean, if you have the financial means and you’re about to lose your mind, why not do it in a Barneys?  I would actually plan my breakdown by starting in the fragrance section.  I would begin with some Frederic Malle, then Serge Lutens, and eventually finish up at the L’Artisan counter.  What can I say?  I find big white florals therapeutic and the “aromatherapy” might offset the potential damage upon my arrival in handbags and clothing.

As I read this book, I became more attuned to my own White Girl Problems (WGPs).  For example, this past year I experienced an unfortunate meat delivery issue with UPS and called Williams-Sonoma.  I hysterically cried over my fancy Fermin pork purchase (grass and acorn-fed hogs) and informed them about how the mean UPS lady was going to let my beautiful pork sit at the dispatch and rot over the weekend instead of coming back out to attempt redelivery.  The Williams-Sonoma rep kindly refunded me and sent me a $75 gift card for my inconvenience.  When you sob like a baby over ridiculously expensive pork, you are clearly experiencing a WGP.

I believe my WGPs manifested at a young age.  I can recall a particular WGP incident with two girls who lived on my street.  I’m reluctant to call them friends because my mother once told me that they weren’t my friends, they were neighbors.  I promptly informed them of this and they cried.  I had no filter and didn’t realize this was not a nice thing to say.  Good times were not to be had for several weeks.  My mother told me not to repeat her statements outside of the house.  One day, Neighbor Girls and I were lamenting about our issues.  I think we might have been 7 or 8 at the time.  Here goes:

Neighbor Girl 1:  “I really wish my parents would stop smoking pot when they drink.  It’s really embarrassing.  The cops came the other night and my dad had to hide his stash.”

Baby Girl Sensory:  “Your parents smoke pot? Where do they smoke it? In the living room where all the spiders are?” (Again, something my mother had noticed that I repeated. Whoops!)

Neighbor Girl 2:  “I really hope my dad gets out of jail this year.  It’s been so long since I’ve seen him.”

Baby Girl Sensory:  “What’s he in jail for? Did he kill someone?”

Neighbor Girl 2:  “No, he stole stuff.”

Baby Girl Sensory:  “Oh.”

Struggling for a story to top these two, I worked up some crocodile tears and came up with the best tidbit that I could under my young White Girl Problem circumstances.

Baby Girl Sensory:  “Well, you know what? It’s really sad but I don’t think I’m getting a Koosa (those Cabbage Patch Kid animal things) this year for Christmas and I don’t know what to do about it. I mean, my kids (Cabbage Patch) really want a pet.” 

Seriously. Someone just slap me.

I did get that Koosa, by the way. If you are interested, I found some here.  I think mine was the orange tabby cat.  Upon closer scrutiny, Koosas now remind me of Ben Vereen in that godawful Zoobilee Zoo show.

You’re totally going to have nightmares about Koosas and Ben Vereen now. Yes, those would be classified as White Girl Sleeping Problems.

Let Them Eat Cake

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Honeycomb pull-apart cake pan from Williams-Sonoma

Occasionally I purchase something on an impulse.  Um…okay, so it happens more than occasionally.  Around this time last year, I was strolling through my beloved Williams-Sonoma and spied something interesting.  Yes, it was a honeycomb cake, displayed on a pedestal, surrounded by honeycomb cake pans and honey almond cake mixes.  I had already received the e-mail about this pan and perused it online.  And there it stood, adjacent to this cake taunting me with its delicious smell and striking presentation.  My friend, who was shopping off someone’s bridal registry, exclaimed, “Oh, that is so cuuuuuuute!”  Indeed it was.  Since I had purchased and was schlepping around a 12″ Lodge cast iron skillet and there was still more damage to be done at Sephora, I had to refrain and think about this honeycomb pan purchase.  It took two whole days before the pan and cake set made its debut at the homestead.  The waiting was pure torture.  I made the cake from the mix that came in the set.  Parts of cake got stuck in the pan and the cake was just so-so.  To be honest, I was a little lazy and didn’t bother with the glaze so I take some of the blame for the ho-hum results.

I set the pan aside and didn’t think about it until recently as I was reorganizing the kitchen cupboards.  As my eyes fell upon it, I felt a slight twinge of buyer’s remorse.  Dammit, I wanted to make a good honey cake.  I thought about revisiting the idea of honey and almonds, contemplated honey and bourbon, and then mulled over several other ideas (bear with me, I’m a fickle Libra).  Alas, nothing made me excited.  While on a more recent Williams-Sonoma visit for a package of cheesecloth, I made another impulse purchase: dried French lavender from their spice collection.  The fact that I bought a container of lavender while in the process of planning a summer trip to its country of origin is downright comical but it had to be done.  I couldn’t just leave with the cheesecloth, could I?  Oh hell to the no!  I had visions of making a lavender simple syrup for cocktails similar to this one.  I could sip on said cocktails while visions of the Côte d’Azur, the French countryside, French food, art museums, and perfume shops in Paris danced in my head.   

And then it hit me –  I could make a dessert out of perfume!  No, not literally. I could make a cake out of honey and lavender and I could use that honeycomb pan!  I scoured the internet and found four recipes and in true Libra fashion, could commit to none of them.  So I took the elements that I liked from each and came up with my very own recipe:

Lady Sensory’s Bee’s Knees Coffee Cake

This is a lavender, honey and lemon coffee cake.  For quirky perfume-lovers like myself,  I’d describe it as the dessert equivalent of Guerlain’s Jicky.  So you can go ahead call it Jicky Cake if you like.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated or vanilla sugar

1/2 cup honey

3 eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla

Zest and juice of two lemons (a little more than 1/3 cup juice and about 1 tbsp – 1 1/2 tbsp zest, 1/3 cup of juice will be for the glaze below)

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cornmeal, finely ground (use blue cornmeal if you can find it – I did and it adds a little more color to the cake)

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp Saigon cinnamon

1 tsp dried lavender

1 6-oz container of fat-free or low-fat plain Greek yogurt

Glaze:

1/4 cup honey

1/3 cup lemon juice (from above)

1/2 tsp dried lavender (you can add more or less, depending on your preference)

Set rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour the Williams-Sonoma Honeycomb cake pan or 8-9″ springform pan.  Zest and juice lemon.  Set aside zest and 1/3 cup of juice for glaze.  Any remaining juice can be tossed in the cake batter.  Add dry ingredients (cornmeal, flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, lemon zest and lavender) in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined.  Set aside. With an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar, and honey together until fluffy, then add vanilla, and any remaining lemon juice.  Add the eggs, a little at a time until all ingredients are combined.  Then add dry ingredients a little at a time, alternating with the addition of the yogurt (dry, yogurt, dry, yogurt) until batter is incorporated.  Pour batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth with a spatula. If you are using the honeycomb pan, make sure each well is full.  The cake will take about 40-50 minutes to cook, depending on what style pan you use.  Mine took about 40, but a springform might result in a thicker cake so it may take longer.

While the cake is in the oven put 1/4 cup of honey, 1/3 cup of lemon juice and 1/2 tsp of dried lavender in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce and stir until honey is dissolved and remove from the heat.  When the cake is done (insert a toothpick in the center and make sure it comes out clean), remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes have passed, poke holes in the surface of the cake with a toothpick or skewer and brush with glaze, being careful not to let it get down the insides of the pan.  Allow to rest for about five minutes, then invert the pan onto a serving plate and brush the top and sides of the cake with glaze and allow to rest for 10-15  minutes.

Stare at your pretty culinary creation for a minute.  Then take a chunk of that cake to your face and savor it as the bright, aromatic, and indulgent flavors of Provence explode in your mouth.

Purchase-Parties and Fancy Manfood

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Purchase-parties?  Oh, you know exactly what I am talking about.  It started long ago with Mary Kay and lately it seems that everyone and his or her mother is peddling something.  No, thank you, I don’t want to host and I certainly don’t want to be a rep.  I’m not even sure I want what’s on my order form, and I certainly don’t need it, but I’m buying it anyway.  My invite frequency reached such a high level that I’ve limited my attendance at these to no more than two per year.  It’s only May and that attendance quota has already been met.  Purchase-parties really aren’t bad.  You meet a few people, enjoy drinks, play little raffle games, and try before you buy.  However, when you get multiple invites for the same company, you tend to run out of options.  I’d like to discuss the products that I own or have enjoyed from these purchase parties, then we’ll make dinner with one of the less expensive items you can get.  As a result, this post will run a tad long, but you’ll get some valuable info.  Opinions are my own, so please don’t take any offense if I don’t like a particular company or product.

Mary Kay: Nada. I have never purchased a product from Mary Kay. I carry a similar sentiment for Avon products.  I find my response to it very, “Meh,” but I am also very particular about makeup and skin care.  At the first Mary Kay party I ever attended, my friend (the host) invited her mother who proceeded to complain about interracial dating. Never you mind that the Caucasian Mary Kay rep was married to an African-American gentleman.  That made for a very nice, socially awkward situation.  If tortured and prompted to purchase Mary Kay via a gun to the head, I guess I would pick a Mary Kay Satin Hands kit which features an exfoliant scrub and emollient moisturizer to make your hands look and feel pretty. It vaguely smells like Bain de Soleil (BDS) orange gelée (or at least it did years ago).  Anything that smells like BDS gets some points in my book.

Tastefully Simple: Again, nada. I’m just not that into cream cheese, dip, and soup mixes.  I do think they would make lovely hostess gifts.  I recall liking a key lime pie cheese ball and a Greek seasoning, but not enough to drop wad. I also recall someone getting into an argument with Siri on her iPhone about the proper definition of a Dirty Sanchez.  It’s probably best not to bother Siri about something you can look up on Urban Dictionary.  She can get rather nasty.

Lia Sophia: Earrings. Lots and lots of earrings. So many earrings. Earrings that I have since seen on other people, so I am no longer interested.  They just don’t change the product line enough and I got burned on an exchange when it was the rep’s fault.  She sent me a necklace instead of (you guessed it!) earrings and I got stuck with credit that I had no desire to use.  No, thank you.  I have never attended a Silpada party and I do not think I would partake because I have heard it is more expensive than Lia Sophia.

PartyLite: Again, “Meh.”  I’ve purchased a candle or three at these. They were okay, but probably wouldn’t repurchase.

Scentsy:  Actually, this was the best purchase-party I attended over the past year.  It’s basically a decorative electric tart warmer that melts a scented bar of  wax with a lightbulb, which is great for reducing candle soot, etc.  The fragrances are long-lasting and reasonably priced.  I have found several scents I like and have since purchased refills.  While I will need some back-up candles for thunderstorm-induced power outages, it has significantly reduced money spent on very pricey home-fragrances.  It also helped that the rep was not local and thus, not at the party.  My friend, who has a blog over here, hosted at her home and continued with an online party.  So the atmosphere was more relaxed and there was no sales pressure about special deals or hosting.  They have a wide range of fragrances (foodie, floral, fresh) which are suitable for any preference.

Pampered Chef:  Since I haven’t attended a sex-toy or a purse party yet, we’ll finish up with this one.  I’m sure it is no surprise that the majority of my purchase-party fund has been dedicated to Pampered Chef.  I currently own: a pizza stone, a springform pan, two metal loaf pans, lidded prep bowls, some doo-dad that holds your food while you cut it (I actually use it to poke holes in acorn squash before I roast it), a garlic press, and several other items.  I enjoy most of my purchases, but my favorite of all is probably the Moroccan Rub pictured above. If you can only spend about $5 at a purchase-party, this will help you out tremendously.  This rub really turned me on to the more exotic spices I use today.  I like to keep one of these on-hand my for when I’m feeling like I just want to keep it simple. I’m not a big red meat-eater anymore, but I occasionally get a craving so I tried my Moroccan Rub on steak with a variation of my traditional steak marinade.

Lady Sensory’s Moroccan Manfood Steak: 

1 tbsp Pampered Chef Moroccan Rub

Cracked black pepper and salt, to taste (I’d say about a 1/4 – 1/2 tsp of each)

1 cup of Worcestershire Sauce (I use the Lea & Perrins kind in the paper-wrapped bottle)

1/2 cup full-bodied red wine (Red Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, or a blend of these)

2 cloves of garlic, minced (or pressed with the above-mentioned Pampered Chef garlic press)

2 lean-cut steaks, like top sirloin or filet mignon (beef tenderloin)

1 tbsp olive oil

Rub steaks well with a small amount of oil, Moroccan Rub, salt, and pepper and allow to sit on a plate in the fridge for a half hour to one hour while you mix up your marinade.  In a shallow container, combine the garlic, Worcestershire sauce, red wine and remaining oil and whisk together.  Place the steaks in marinade and allow to sit in the fridge for about 4 hours, flipping once.  Prepare steaks on the grill or under the broiler to your desired temperature (I like mine medium-rare so I do about 4-5 minutes on each side under my broiler; steaks were about 1.5 inches thick).  If you like yours more well done, add a minute or two on each side. If you choose to do larger steaks, like strip steak, trim off a bit if the fat and increase the recipe to accommodate the size of the steak.  I think you could probably use a flank or hanger steak but that cut doesn’t appeal to me as much.  Once you have removed steaks from the grill or broiler, allow them to rest for 10 minutes.  I served steak over salad with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar dressing, alongside mushroom risotto and the sweet potato fries below, but you could totally pair it with your own choice of potato or veggie side dish.

Lady Sensory’s Simple Spiced Sweet Potato Fries

I use one potato per person and this recipe could season 1-2 sweet potatoes, so increase recipe as needed.

1 sweet potato (yam)

1 tbsp Pampered Chef Moroccan Rub

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ginger

1/8 tsp cloves

1/8 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper

Salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a cookie sheet with foil and brush with a small amount of olive oil.  This will help prevent sticking and makes for easier clean-up.  Clean sweet potato and peel if desired. I leave the skin on. Slice in half and cut into wedges. Place wedges into bowl. Combine dry ingredients and sprinkle over potato wedges. Then drizzle with remaining oil. You may need to add a little more oil, depending on the size of your potato.  Toss and rub the oil and seasoning mixture onto the surface of the wedges until well incorporated.  Place in a single layer on the cookie sheet and allow to cook for about a half-hour, turning the fries over once, and keeping an eye on them so they don’t burn.  These can caramelize really quickly!  Remove from oven and serve with ketchup if that is your preference (balsamic vinegar also pairs nicely), but these are fine on their own.

Since this is on the healthier side, I wouldn’t classify this as the kind of ‘Manfood’ that my father, Crazy Bob, used to enjoy at random diners while traveling for work.  But, I’m pretty sure a dude wouldn’t complain about having a plate of tasty moo-moo meat placed in front of him.  And if he does, he gets to wear that dinner home.

Spring Violet and the Speakeasy

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“Big doesn’t necessarily mean better. Sunflowers aren’t better than violets. ” – Edna Ferber

You certainly have that one right, Edna Ferber.  Friday night consisted of a Single and Fabulous happy hour that turned out to be more than just one hour.  In fact, it was approximately 6 hours and 6 establishments.  Yes, we still count the ones where we weren’t served since  I’m certain that a memorable impression was still made.  So this would technically qualify this as a mild Single and Fabulous pub crawl.  I’m embarrassed that my directionally challenged detour and false eyelash repair deterred me for approximately 35 minutes but friends who have been to Vegas with me know that primpin’ ain’t easy.  And no, that’s not a typo.

So, there’s a big cocktail trend that has been going on nationwide but has finally reached Upstate New York.  We decided we would head to a local neighborhood known as the South Wedge for some meandering to different establishments; and to try the ‘speakeasy’ that is not really a speakeasy, Cheshire.  First and foremost, any bar that is named after anything from Alice in Wonderland wins points with me.  Second, any bar that incorporates throwback cocktails with the use of egg (as mentioned here) also wins points with me.  Third, it sits above a wine bar that we enjoy frequenting and belongs to the same owners.  Sold, sold, and sold.

Now let’s talk about the cocktails.  My Single and Fabulous cohorts and I settled on a Corpse Reviver (delicious and to be discussed at a later time) and three Stormy Mornings.  The Stormy Morning consists my beloved friend, St. Germain, creme de violette, lime juice, and champagne.  It was created in a bar in New Orleans and the recipe can be found here.  We thoroughly enjoyed them.  Twice.  Ironically, I had been thinking about violets, procuring some creme de violette, and experimenting in the kitchen since I read this post about violet fragrances.  I have struggled with getting my hands on a sample of that Annick Goutal fragrance rendition so I had to find some way to get my violet fix.  I love violets.  They smell great, and I have a list of fragrances that I enjoy which feature this note.  However, I particularly enjoy them in foodie-items like fancy chocolates and teas.  How could they possibly fail me in a cocktail?  I was not wrong. 

My friend said, “This is really refreshing.”  Actually, it was a more colorful description than that which also included a few f-bombs.

I agreed and said, “I could imagine this with some gin, particularly Hendrick’s because of the rose and cucumber nuances,” or something close to that, which probably also included a few f-bombs.

“Yeah,” he said, “The gin might cut the sweetness.”

After documenting our photogenic selves with someone’s smart phone doo-dad, we finished up at Cheshire, we decided to head back to Lux (another establishment that packs some personality-plus) and tried a St. Germain concoction by our favorite bartender, Phil.  Phil whipped us up something fierce with St. Germain and cucumber vodka.  I’ve decided to call his drink the Phil-er-up.  Inspired by my Friday night adventures, I chose to partake in some experimentation late Sunday afternoon.  After researching my ideas, I realized mine were not so original.  However, I created one beverage inspired by Phil (I’m not really a vodka girl so we’re playing with Hendrick’s gin, people) and a classic, revisited, known as The Aviator. 

Enjoy kids, and remember that April showers bring May flowers!

Lady Sensory’s Mary Contrary

2 parts Hendrick’s Gin

1 part St. Germain

1 part creme de violette

Juice of one lime

Sparkling water/club soda

Thinly sliced cucumber slices for garnish (or lime)

Chill a martini glass or fill a tall Collins glass with ice.   In a cocktail shaker mix gin, St. Germain, creme de violette, and lime juice over ice.  Stir (or shake) until well combined.  Pour in chilled martini glass, add a tiny bit of sparkling water and garnish with cukes.  Or pour over ice in the Collins glass, add sparkling water to fill to the top and stir and garnish with cukes. 

Lady Sensory’s Aviation

2 parts Hendrick’s gin

Juice of 1 small lemon

1/2 part creme de violette

1/2 part kirschwasser (cherry brandy) combined with 2 maraschino cherries and a few drops of maraschino syrup*

*If you can get your hands on maraschino liqueur, use this instead.  Interestingly, I found the creme de violette more easily than maraschino liqueur so I went with what was handy… and it worked.

Lemon twist and maraschino cherries for garnish

Chill a martini glass.  In a cocktail shaker over ice, combine the gin, creme de violette, cherry brandy/syrup and lemon juice. Stir or shake well.  Pour into martini glass and garnish with two cherries and a lemon twist on a cocktail pick.

Cheshire is located directly above Solera Wine Bar at 647 South Avenue, in Rochester, New York.  Cheshire is only open Friday and Saturday nights right now, but Solera is open Monday through Saturday.  Lux is conveniently located across the street at 666 South Avenue.  They have a variety of themed bar nights, an outdoor patio, and artwork on display.  They also have Phil.  I recommend hitting both establishments, whenever possible.

Oh ‘Plain Vanilla,’ Those Haters Are Just Plain Dumb

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I will never forget the smell of these drying in the sun at the vanilla plantation in Taha'a, French Polynesia.

Does anyone out there remember an episode of The Hills where that kooky Kristin Cavallari said that her sex life with Brody Jenner was, “Very vanilla?”  Hello?  Are you still there?  Great!  Sorry for that poor-excuse-for-television reference, but I beg to differ with Ms. Cavallari.  Obviously she hasn’t had good vanilla or she wouldn’t be using that euphemism.  Stop laughing.  You know you liked watching those idiots on MTV.  Now let’s drop it and talk about vanilla.

So I’m a vanilla girl.  I love it in everything from fragrances to desserts to balsamic vinegar.  Don’t get me wrong –  it’s not like I want to smell like a cookie.  Did you know vanilla is actually used in fragrances as a base note?  True story.  I couldn’t imagine wearing some of my heady white floral perfumes if they weren’t grounded by that fragrance note.  Did you know it is used in chocolate to help enhance the flavor?  I’ve added it to homemade hot chocolate and truffles for years.  Vanilla is a pod, and one of the very few edible parts of an orchid plant.  It is the second most expensive spice in the world after my other special friend, saffron.  For the most part, the flowers are artificially hand-pollinated due to the fussy melipone bee (the only natural pollinator) refusing to travel out of Mexico.  Hey, is this nerdy enough for you yet? 

Tahitian vanilla orchid

The most commonly used species is Vanilla planifolia which is the one found in Madagascar (Bourbon vanilla) and Mexico (Mexican vanilla).  These beans are commonly used in baked goods and are what I’d describe as traditional flavorful, boozy vanilla. Vanilla tahitiensis is a different species derived from you guessed it, Tahiti.  Tahitian vanilla is more fragrant than flavorful, and offers a delicate floral and mildly earthy aroma that is appropriate for custards, crème anglaise, fruit desserts, and fragrances.  It’s sophisticated and wonderful.  As a side note, Vanilla Pompona is another species (apparently West Indian vanilla) from the Caribbean.  While I have been in the West Indies, I have not yet tried this bean.  I ordered Madagascar, Mexican and Tahitian beans three or four years ago from an online store so that I could create my own vanilla extract and vanilla sugar at home.  The extract makes for delightful holiday gifts, and the sugar makes for wonderful baked goods. 

A couple of years ago, I was able to take my dream vacation at the time: a trip to Tahiti.  It was a tall ship cruise, which is much smaller than an ocean liner and I was able to visit six of the French Polynesian islands.  People have asked me what my favorite thing was about the trip: the beaches, the tiare flowers, the black pearls, snorkeling in the crystal clear lagoons, screwing around with the 20-something Swedish sailor, avoiding the 50-something creepy judge…don’t worry, we’ll eventually cover those other topics.  One island at a time, people.  Everything about the trip was great but my answer has always remained: Taha’a.  Ta-what’s that?  Well, it’s one of the more underdeveloped Polynesian islands which produces the greatest percentage of all the French Polynesian vanilla.  I was able to visit the vanilla plantation and actually see the Tahitian vanilla being processed; and also purchased some at a very reasonable price.  If you go to this destination you will find that many items are prohibitively expensive but at the time, these were priced more reasonably than in the U.S.

The weather was looking a little menacing the morning of the trip to the vanilla plantation.

I’ll let the visuals speak for themselves, and give you the basic information so you can make your own vanilla sugar and extract with whatever beans you choose.  No need to take a fancy vacay;  you can start by simply getting the beans online like I did.

Lady Sensory’s Vanilla Sugar:

Fill a food processor bowl about 2/3 – 3/4 full with white granulated sugar.  Slice 3 vanilla beans in half, lengthwise, and scrape the inner parts (beans) out and put in the bowl with the sugar.  Set remaining pods aside.  Pulse the sugar until the beans (tiny black bits) are well-distributed.  Take an airtight canister, large enough to hold the sugar, and place the remaining pods in the bottom.  Fill with the sugar/bean mixture to cover the bean pods and close container.  Give the bean/pod/sugar mixture a couple of weeks to settle in and get fragrant and then use to substitute for regular granulated sugar in baking.  You may want to reduce the extract amount in recipes because you already have some vanilla flavor in the sugar.

Lady Sensory’s Vanilla Extract:

Hiking around Taha'a after visiting the vanilla plantation.

Take one very large mason jar (Ball jar) and place 7-10 vanilla beans, halved lengthwise, in the bottom.  Fill to the top with vodka or rum.  Close the lid tightly and allow to steep in a cool dark place (not the fridge) for several months until color and flavor develops.  You will want to shake the jar gently every couple of weeks.  When ready, strain mixture through a cheesecloth to extract a more clear liquid (there will be tiny bits of vanilla bean you will want to remove).  Dispense into smaller airtight glass containers for yourself or for others (I use an eye dropper and put in small bottles).  Save the beans for another round of extract-making. Beans can be re-used to make more extract in the same manner.

Now perhaps you should whip up some crème brûlée with your new homemade extract and sugar.  Savor that dessert while contemplating what “very vanilla” means to you…because it sounds pretty damn good to me.

Jar of homemade vanilla extract (steeping for about 4-5 months).