Monday, April 12, 2010

Candied Violets—tasting the fragrance of spring

IMG_4171 The Goddess Flora has been giving me many little presents the past few days. Today, I stepped out on my back porch and discovered the most delicate little wild violets. Time to make candied violets, one of my spring rituals. Violets remind me of my beloved grandmother, who I still miss daily. Her backyard cobbled courtyard was always full of little wild violets which sprung up in the mortar between the slate stones. It drove her nuts to have them thIMG_4177ere, and she often paid me to hang out and weed the stones for her when I was growing up, but I know she also loved them.
I love having candied flowers on hand for impromptu parties when I need to create a beautiful cocktail or for decorating cakes. First, I found the most gorgeous, perfect specimens available, which is sometimes difficult, as you can see; they often hide in the grass. Then I harvest them and wash them very  carefully to avoid bruising their tender petals. On the left you can see part of my IMG_4231lovely harvest.IMG_4247
After they have drained significantly in the colander, I place them on a paper towel to dry completely. I then heat one part water and two parts sugar (proportionate to the amount of harvested violets) in a saucepan, add some rosewater and almond extract (to emulate the flavor of the more fragrant European violet) and then let that cool to room temperature. I dip each violet in this liquid  sugar—carefully, with tweezers--and set it on a flat surface to dry completely. You can make candied violets with egg whites, but I don’t.
IMG_4333IMG_4255These keep for quite a while—probably a few months, but I bet you won’t have to worry about that; I usually use all mine up in a matter of days one way or another.




Borsari Violetta di Parma
Floralia Cocktail

Adventures in Sinaesthesia: vanilla voyage

Tonight we are going to take a gorgeous trip through the land of vanilla. First stop: Guerlain’s Shalimar, the quIMG_4319een of Orientals, the vanillic fantasy goddess. Second stop: vanilla pudding, warm. Third stop: your most comfortable, yet beautiful clothes. Fourth stop: a down comforter, and someone to cuddle with. Maybe you put on a favorite movie, maybe you just enjoy one another’s company, maybe you play a lush, gorgeous album—I suggest Caribou’s Andorra or Iron and Wine’s The Shepherd’s Dog--  and listen to it together. But as you are eating the pudding, think about the sweetness of the sugar, and the way it interacts with the cream, and the smoky softness of the vanilla. Smell the Shalimar and keep the scent in your nose and mind as you sample the pudding. Note how well the two play together.Hug the blanket closer around you and feel the fabric and the plushness caress your skin. hug your partner. Think about whether you these experiences are in accord with the vanilla pudding and the perfume.
The goal here is to let vanilla, one of the most common yet powerful scents around, take you to that paradoxical placeIMG_4329 that it inhabits so well; comfort and heightened sensory arousal. We humans are programmed to love vanilla, and love it we do. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but I will say it all again. It reminds us of the comfort of infancy, of nursing, of love in its most basic form. But because it is musky, and in nearly every fragrance, and reminds us of human skin, it is also a very sexual smell, something that reminds us of physical love, of being close to another human being in a very intimate way.


Andorra
The Shepherd's Dog

Adventures in sinaesthesia: Shangri-La

Pu Erh Toucha
Like the James Hilton novel that began the craze for the fantasy of the lost utopian fairyland in the Himalayas, this is going to be an exercise in orientalism. After all, I have never been to Yunnan province, so I can only project my own desires and fantasies onto that place.
But Orientalism, like every decadence, can be wonderful in moderation, so I invite you to come with me on a trip to Shangri-La. Since Yunnan is the original home of Camellia Sinensis, you must brew yourself some Pu-erh tea. This is a dark, earthy, yet somehow floral tea, ad it tastes exotic and unique. Sip it lyunaningeringly, and enjoy it while wearing Jean-Claude Ellena’s masterpiece, Hermessence Osmanthe Yunnan, which I consider to be his very best tea scent, minimalism done exactly right. Note how well the scent of the tea and the imagined floral tea interact with one another.
 
I also recommend watching the chapter of the BBC’s Wild China on Yunnan Province. It is absolutely gorgeous, and it seems like the next best thing to taking a trip there, which I desperately want to do someday! You can get the episode (no. 2, “Shangri-La”) right now on Netflix instant watch, if you subscribe to that. Once you have done all that, freshen up your fragrance, brew a pot of tea for the road, and head outside for a hike in the greenest plOsmanthusace you can think of in your area—you can imagine that you, too, are one of the first lucky explorers to discover this magical isolated fairyland. Sigh.
I know this is not good enough—if you’re like me, nothing but a trip to the province of Yunnan will do now--but we travelers of the imagination can always keep trying to visit places in our minds.  Maybe one day we’ll get there in real life, but for now, merci, monsieur Ellena!


The Colorfull Waterfall







Tea and Fragrance, part one
credits: pic of Yunan, Sumtselin Gompa Monastery, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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