Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Urge

Right now, as I write this, I'm feeling a strong tugging urge to CLEAN THIS DAMN STUDIO! You know how they show hoarders on television who've created tunnels of crap in their houses? That's how the studio feels. It doesn't look like a hoarder's home, I mean, there aren't any cat feces or enormous man-eating dust bunnies or piles of newspapers from 1939 crawling up the walls. There's just so much stuff everywhere. Where I'm sitting right now is a long 8 foot fold out table with the computer, monitor and keyboard crammed onto the left side, and bottles, vials, drying soap, projects, USPS shipping boxes, a hole puncher, a bag of evaluation perfumes, a stack of books (Arctander on top), a stack of papers (Jeanne Rose notes on top), a box of vintage dresses and hand crocheted purses, my bucket of resin, the labdanum doodies, and bills. That's just this table. Behind me are two more tables, my blending desk and my packaging table, and a recent edition, an antique hutch, all covered end to end with more perfume-related stuff. And there's a cabinet full of undiluted raw materials, two wooden shelving units piled high with clean, empty liter bottles for formulating, more books, perfume CD's, samples from other perfumers, soaping supplies, boxes of bottles, the al-embic and its accompanying gear. Things are piled so high, some even touch the ceiling! Oh, and under the packaging table are plastic bins full with bottles, tins, vials, old formulation notebooks, and under the table I'm sitting at are bins of raw herbs and flowers, bottles of hydrosols, a bin of old soaps, and the printer.

There's a definite path through the room, but thankfully, nothing falling into the walkway. It gets a regular dusting and vacuuming and if anything happens to jump from one of the overcrowded tables, it gets picked up and placed in the back of the lemming line. At times, it's overwhelming. But right now I want to do something about it, starting with the hutch.

Wish me luck because I'm going in . . .

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Petitgrain Sur Fleur Neroli Shortbread Cookies

The shortbread recipe comes from an old cookbook called 'The American Woman's Cookbook' edited by Ruth Berolzheimer, published in 1942. It's not as antique beautiful as one might think, though. This cookbook was used. To the point that at some time during its history the entire book came out of the cover and was inadvertently (at least I hope so) reattached to the book upside down and in the wrong end of the book. So when you open the book at the beginning, on the title side, you end up reading the index upside down.

Anyway, the recipes are still good. Dyslexic repairs aside.

The flavor was incorporated by moi.

Petitgrain Sur Fleur Neroli Shortbread Cookies

1 cup of butter
1/8th tsp petitgrain sur fleur neroli essential oil from White Lotus Aromatics
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour or 2 cups sifted white flour and 1/4 cup corn starch

Cream the butter, add in the petitgrain sur fleur neroli essential oil and blend in, add in brown sugar until blended, then work in the flour a little at a time. Roll up into a ball and let it chill for a couple of hours. Roll out the chilled dough on a floured surface and cut with cookie cutters, pastry wheel, or cut into triangles. Bake in a slow 325 degree Fahrenheit oven for 10 - 12 minutes until the edges of the shortbread turns light brown.

Great with hot tea or coffee.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I Am Creticus!



Okay, I'm not really (this is where you, or someone 'out there' says, "No, I am Creticus!"), I just thought it sounded funny, y'know, like the old 'I am Spartacus!' line. Maybe not so funny if I have to explain it, right?

I got the cistus creticus in the mail on Christmas Eve. What a surprise. The picture here, it's from the suppliers webpage (http://labdanum-shop.blogspot.com/) it looks nice, doesn't it? Let me explain ~ it looks soft and gooey and gummy and pliable, and you can almost imagine the scent, don't you think? Well, someone must have been playing with this one in the picture because the pieces I received look like -- um -- animal doody. They're rough looking, like an omnivore made it. I'd guess it would take some warming and handling before it looked like the one in the picture. I'm not suggesting false advertising or anything like that, I like my poopy looking labdanum. The scent isn't as strong as I'd thought it would be, but it's definitely labdanum. It smells like a warm animal, and I get a hint of a peppery note. It smells much more strongly when burned, amber like, sweet and woody. The next step is an ultrasonic tincture ~ then I'll talk about it again.

I'm feeling a bit paralyzed in my shop lately. Like there's so much to do I'm overwhelmed before I start so I don't. Start, that is. There's always something more important (not really, but that's the excuse I say to myself to make it all right) ~ a kid to pick up, a grocery store to haunt, a nap to take . . . yeah, lame. But I really, really, really need to get moving on this stuff. I have evals to conduct, an evaluation of perfumes from a famous Natural Botanical Perfumer so I can choose the full bottle version I prefer most, a few articles to get started on, a workbook to finish up, loads of reading, and, yes, the shop still isn't painted or decorated or in any way put together. After having visited a few NBP's the past month or so, I've got a better idea of how to arrange my space. And to be honest, I have more space than they do, so I don't know WTF my problem is. Oh, those excuses! Yes. That's it.

And the situation with the computers is . . . just . . . unbelieveable. I have three. And I've got a loaner lap top that doesn't like the internet, so I usually use it for word processing, but something's gone wrong with that too. So, about those other three worthless computers -- two are at my son's being repaired, the one I'm using now runs on Windows 98, doesn't have Word (WordPad only), moves at the speed of a dead snail on the internet, can't read PDF files, can't transfer images, can't do a flippin' thing I need it to. I'm writing documents on Google docs for the time being. Oh, and my lovely daughter, in her most graceful and gracious manner, knocked my external hard drive onto the floor directly on the USB port and yes, it won't connect to ANY of the computers because the port is jacked. Need a new case with a new USB port and we're back in business. In the meantime, everything languishes in the external hard drive, or the "eternal hard hat" as it's been named. You'd think a kid who has taken both belly dance and kick boxing classes would be more, how do you say? Coordinated? So as not to allow something so silly as a slow moving fall of an important piece of publishing equipment to occur. But no, she just stood there, holding the power cord in her hand, and then pronounced, "Ooooopppss!" as loudly as she could when it crunched on it's poor little USB plugger dealie on the floor. And, as if that weren't enough, I broke my printer yesterday. Thank heavens I have a back-up, but, of course, there's a problem with that one -- it's run out of ink and the ink cartridges for it cost, geesh, what? Like $65? Well, sure. But I have cartridges that will work in the printer, brand new cartridges -- but guess where they are? In the broke ass printer and stuck so I can't get them out. You'd think that by this point I'd be bouncing my head against a wall, right? Not me. I give myself a moment to feel grief and self-pity, then I get over it. Not having a good computer is not the end of the world. Not having a working printer is not the end of the world. The end of the world is the end of the world, right?

The hubs is washing dishes and just asked, "Are you burning more of that stuff because I can really smell it now." I'm not burning more of that 'stuff', and the scent does seem to have gotten stronger. This creticus is some special -- um -- stuff.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Being a Natural Botanical Perfumer is Like Having a Disease

Like obsessive compulsive disorder, or a blood infection that's in constant motion, throwing images into our fevered brains of rare and strange combinations of aromatics that will titillate and tantalize even the most cynical detractors.

I got lost yesterday. I went out with the intent to be "antiquing" and ended up on a windy wet road headed for Kings Canyon National Forest. And like the old Arab proverb suggests, one can fix a mistake by turning around at the crucial moment. Like, just before plowing into a snow bank. So, yeah, went with the intent and ended up eating a really horrible veggie burger in a little dive diner in Three Rivers, CA. I dare you to google map that one. There were two really great antique shops open when we arrived, but by the time we finished our lunch, the shops had closed, an hour earlier than their posted times stated. Which means we drove an hour and a half for a sh*t burger, bad service and a forced gratuity. Instead of going back the way we came, I decided to take a detour through a couple of other small towns to scope out their antique shops. And of course none were open. Then I saw a sign on the 245 that said "Kingsburg and Kings Canyon". I'm thinking Kings Canyon as in the direction of, not the actual park, perhaps even the 180. But nooooooo, the road I chose, the windy, wet, practically devoid of human life road was taking us straight up to the park entrance. After my son, who never turns green turned green, I decided it was wise to go back and take the road that said "Kingsburg". Didn't make it that far, though. Ended up on a faded, overgrown road that nearly catapulted us into Orosi. Go ahead, look that one up too. But we made it back home in one piece.

Here's the problem, though, with that ride, aside from the obvious -- all I thought about as I was hurtling around curves in hopes of finding the elusive 180 was 'I wonder how that oak's bark smells?' and 'Rox does the leaves, I wonder if any of these leaves would have a different scent profile?' and 'that moss on the rocks over there, can I tincture it?'

It was pathetic. While I was daydreaming of tincturing, distilling, enfleuraging and somehow, anyhow, squeezing scent out of the California foothills, my son was getting ready to heave up his French fries.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Peanut Brittle ~ What a Joke!

Okay. I used two different peanut brittle recipes from two different books, and eras (one from the 90's and one from the 10's) and neither resulted in peanut brittle. How 'bout peanut blocks? I tried this three times (I am persistent), with the first two going belly up by thoroughly melting the sugar which immediately turned burnt orange and -- well, burned. Instantly. The last one, after careful tending and extremely low heat, finally resulted in the recipe's required "golden sugar", which I carefully poured into the buttered dish with the salted peanuts and . . . and . . . it practically hardened before it hit the pan! It has been pretty cold around here. But I didn't think it was so cold it would turn sugar syrup into a glacier within seconds. So I ended up piling the peanuts into the hot syrup in the pan and kneading them in, leaving a good cup to half cup of orphan peanuts that never made it into the mix. There wasn't even a moment where I could consider perfuming this stuff (as if). After that first attempt, I was just happy to get the sugar right and the peanuts in. By next holiday season, I will have this peanut brittle bit down. In the meantime, enjoy the nut clusters!

Today is baking day. Cookies and bread. I haven't made bread in ages. Well, that's not really true. I made a couple loaves the first day I got my new stove, which was about mid-October (I think). But first, it's morning errands that take me away from the house. On the Day Before the Day. I have stressed the fact that I am a bit of a crazy person before, right? Well, this just validates it.

Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Candies, Cookies and Cheese, Oh My!

Tomorrow is candy day. Making. Candy. All. Day.

Yup.

White Chocolate Peppermint Bark, candied pecans with clementine peels (very small amount of clementine peels), candied assorted nuts (hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans) with real maple and a hint of rose, candied citrus peels, and plain butter toffee. These are for munching on the Day, and for gifting.

Then Thursday, the Day Before the Day, it's cookie time. Mounds of chocolate chip cookies, pecan/patchouli snowballs, petitgrain sur fleur neroli shortbread cookies. May try my hand at some rose flavored mini cheese cake tarts. Whatever else I have time and ingredients to make.

Then on the Day, I won't be making cheese, but slicing Armenian style string cheese, goat feta, Irish Killaree Kerrygold, Austrian gruyere, and a stinky blue valdeon wrapped in hazel leaves, to be washed down with Sierra Nevada's delicious Celebration Ale, a few Jack Daniel's whiskey sours and a shot or three of Jager. There may be shots of Metamucil and Rolaids on the side as well . . .

And turkey chile verde tamales, a ham, sweet potatoes, mashed organic potatoes, corn, homemade bread with unsalted butter and a fat Greek salad with delicious Kalamata olives and more feta.

Then some poker, no cigars.

It's a smelly fabulous food fest on the horizon.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Petitgrain Sur Fleur Shortbread Cookies

What did I learn from making shortbread cookies with bergamot, petitgrain sur fleur and a little clementine rind? Less is MORE, as per the usual findings. Methinks half the petitgrain sur fleur, half the bergamot and perhaps elimination of the clementine rind altogether is the answer to the resultant soapy after taste. It wasn't horrible, no, in no way was it really bad, but it was disconcerting, and nothing a splash of hot tea across the tongue couldn't remedy. The house smelled of the outlying countryside's bi-yearly orange blossom bloom while the cookies were baking. Everybody who came in took a deep sniff and pronounced, "Man, your house ALWAYS smells sooooo goooood!" Okay, really, only two people said that. But everyone else traipsed around happy as mindless loons, perhaps not really knowing why. I'm considering drilling holds in the cookies and lacing string through the holes to wear the cookies as jewelry -- they smell that good.

Happy Yule, my loves.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Singing the Post Office Blues

My usual turn around time for getting orders out is 48 hours, at least that's the goal. Nearly all of November wasn't that way at all -- I wasn't staying in my home, I was caring for my mom who'd recently had surgery, so getting those orders out was really hit and miss. Some languished for over a week! Now I'm at the post office at least twice a week, sometimes three times a week, and what a pain in the tookis that is! Yesterday I was in the automated teller line at the local PO when a woman behind me (I was buying the postage for my parcels at the time) dropped all her parcels on the ground and made a huge ruckus about how "long people take". Um, lady? I waited in that same line for people in front of me taking their time, all the while balancing 6 oddly shaped parcels too. Did I get pissy? Did I throw my stuff down and act like a three-year-old? No. I waited. Because if you didn't want to wait in line, and you didn't want to get frustrated because you're on your lunch break or your half-day off or you're running out of time before picking up your kids, then you should'a sent your stuff in November, or waited until January -- there isn't any getting around the long lines at the PO these days, my friend.

Next time bring a book to read. And a folding chair.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Curbing the Enthusiasm

I do this to myself a lot -- get excited about a project, get a little ahead of myself, and them BAM! Get knocked on my bum. My learning curve has spike strips on it ~ ha! So, yep, made a little perfumed/flavored sugar yesterday and excitedly presented it to the fam damily after dinner, to be used as an extra dip for the Turkish delight I picked up at the Armenian deli/bakery (Nina's is the BEST!), and I got varying reports of "Ugh!", "Yuck!", and barfing sounds. Okay. Back to the drawing board on that one . . . it illustrates the point that making perfumed food is the same as making perfume (duh!), it takes time and experimentation and PATIENCE! Maybe in a week the perfumed sugar will have settled and won't be such a nasty bit of indulgence. I'm thinking of adding it to the powdered sugar portion of a delicious almond cookie recipe I've been using for the holidays for something like 20 years. Yeah, I think it might work in there. In the meantime, I'm sticking with the candied citrus rinds. Except for maybe working on that petitgrain scone recipe . . . .

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Finally Getting Into the "Spirit"

Finally getting into the "spirit" of the season, which is a vast improvement over years past when I never got into the spirit and instead waited impatiently for the season to pass as uneventfully as possible. I've been inspired by my weekend away to make scented goodies -- not skincare or perfume, but edibles. I'm thinking an English trifle with a little dessert wine and maybe a sprinkling of lemon hydrosol . . . I love Quady Wines, and the best part is, they're right up the street and I can go pick up my loot in person. I also want to make some candies flavored with perfume stuff. I actually sampled a few perfumed/flavored truffles, and a fantastically perfumed/flavored dipping sugar. Oh, the possibilities! I also recently received a delicious shortbread cookie flavored with lavender -- wow. Again, endless possibilities here! So instead of the usual gingerbread cookies (though that's perfumed as well), we'll be whipping up lavender cookies and rose or neroli cheesecakes and jasmine raspberry tarts. Mmmmm.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

All the News That (Ain't) Fit to Print!

Well, I'm back -- of sorts. Still rockin' the crappy computer, still slaving away in a completely disorganized studio, still -- still doing my "thang", as it were. I'm reading the most hysterical book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! I'm a huge Jane Austen fan (huge, enormous, sadly unstable) and just finished up the modern sequel of Pride and Prejudice written by the author of The Thorne Birds, Colleen McCullough? THAT was entertaining. It was only moderately written in the same vein, with a huge skew into the margins with the continuous mention of sex as SEX instead of innuendo -- refreshing, but, man, what a trip. This current book, the zombies version, is funny. Most of the writing is Ms. Austen's, what isn't is Seth Grahame-Smith's, and what an imagination that guy has. At best, this is a straight re-write with the inclusion of the words "warrior", "the unmentionables" (that'd be the zombies), "Mr. Liu" and the "Shao Lin masters" tossed in here and there, as well as girls favoring muskets over the pianoforte, etc., etc., etc. The "scene" wherein Miss Bingley and Eliza Bennet are walking around the room at Mr. Bingley's country residence trying to distract Mr. Darcy from his letter to his sister is a hoot -- when Mr. Darcy states the virtues of an accomplished woman, he adds her mastery of "Oriental" fighting styles and modern tactics along with her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, knowledge of music, singing, drawing. Killing zombies is dirty business, you might guess. But in this story, it's a common thing, like gathering eggs from the henhouse. Dirty business, but someone's gotta do it, so why not Elizabeth Bennet and sisters with their trademark Pentagram of Death? Yeah, sure.

On the 'fume front, I recently received a spectacular array of lavenders. Stunning stuff. My two favorites are the Grosso lavendula angustifolia x intermediate, and the Purple Bouquet lavendula angustifolia. I get more of the lovely lavender floral and less of the lavender medicinal from these two, but there are more ~ there's a Maillette, a Royal Velvet (nice, nice, nice), a Super and a Hidcote. I'm thinking of using a blend of some of these to make a nice temple rub (the temples on your head, m'dear, not A TEMPLE!), and maybe a spiced vanilla lavender solid perfume. We'll see. I change my mind as often as I change my socks, so what goes up for sale could be an entirely different animal from what's described here.

I also received a special parcel from across the pond, which I suspect is a birthday gift ~ a lovely quilted cloth grocery bag (I can ALWAYS use one of these! Yay!), a large tin of galbanum resinoid that smells like no other galbanum I've ever sniffed. Sadly, galbanum has a bit of a cigarette butt scent quality to it that is a bit off putting to some people, but this resinoid is so green, so sweet (yes, sweet!), but so definitively galbanum, and not a single whiff of butts! And, as if that weren't enough, my patron also sent a bucket--yes! a BUCKET!--of olibanum resinoid for my little al embic. See? My friends even send my perfumery tools gifts. And, yes, my al embic was pleased, thrilled even, and her little copper bottom blushed bronze.

I'm going through the looking glass this weekend ~ can't hardly wait! Gonna make merry, as the season dictates.

Au revoir! Until we meet again.

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