So I made perfume.

You guys remember a few weeks back when I wrote that post about body products? And how I mentioned that one of my vices is wearing perfume every day (the others are good cheese and House of Cards)?

I finally used up all of what I was wearing at the time, and decided to try my hand at making my own. I have to say, it doesn’t suck. It smells really nice, actually.

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I started out by going to my local health foods store and smelling all the essential oils to decide what I really liked. I LOOOOVED the jasmine essential oil. I could have probably used it alone and been good with it. I also liked the cedar wood, but it didn’t jive with the jasmine, and I wanted to mix a few to make my own signature scent.

They even sold little roller bottles (and dropper bottles and atomizers) right by the essential oils, and several other supplies you might need. I noticed they also were selling grapeseed “carrier” oil, also. I had some at home that I use for cooking and making body scrub, so I asked the guy at the health foods store, and he said the grapeseed carrier oil was the same stuff that is sold for cooking.

I also already had lavender and eucalyptus essential oil at home that I use for other stuff (cleaning and making sugar body scrub. So, at the store I tested out the jasmine with both, and they seemed to compliment each other nicely. I had my blend.

I did a search online for a basic how-to. There are tons of them out there. But the process was pretty common sense. Some instructions say to use alcohol to dilute the oils, but I didn’t want to use it simply because it is very drying for skin. Here’s how I did it:

You will need:

  • 2 Tb. carrier oil (grapeseed, sweet almond, jojoba or other neutral-smelling oil)
  • essential oils for the base notes, middle notes and top notes (or whatever combo suits you)
  • Small dark-colored glass bottle

Add the carrier oil to the bottle. Start by adding the base notes. Add around 5 or 6 drops of the dominant oil. In the world of perfume, these are sometimes the more strong scents like musk or frankincense. Add 4 or drops of the middle notes. These could be the more floral scents. Then add 2-3 drops of the oil you want as the top note. These are more delicate, and compliment the other two. Of course, you can just blend it however you like it, and not worry about what is a base note and what is a top note. I certainly endorse this process. Start by adding a few drops of each initially and shake well. If you feel like you need a little more of one, add a drop or two and shake again until you get the scent you want.

The next batch I make, I do plan to use alcohol mixed with the oils. This doesn’t last all day like perfumes I’ve bought. I think the alcohol might actually make it last longer.

I’ve been wearing this for a week, and I love it. It’s a truly unique perfume. I buy into all that hoodoo about pheromones and how perfumes smell differently on different people. The science behind smell is serious business, too. Retail stores are experimenting with scent diffusers to trigger the parts of a customer’s brain associated with a positive experience, and ultimately spend more. It’s well established that scents and memory are closely related. When we smell something familiar from our past, memories are triggered more vividly than with any other sensory interaction. Sometimes when I smell a perfume that I used to wear long ago, I remember those times. CK One will always remind me of high school. Maybe sometime long into the future, when I get a whiff of jasmine, I’ll think of this summer and this time in my life.

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A Rhubarita and Rhubarb Muffins

So, last week, I stumbled on this post on pinterest for rhubaritas from the local kitchen blog.

Yummy. I love rhubarb. And tequila. Makes perfect sense to put them together. Rhubarb is kinda tangy and sour-ish, but when you add the sugar, many folks compare it to the taste of strawberries. It’s a perfect flavor to pair with tequila blanco in my opinion, so I couldn’t wait to try this.

Actually, I love margaritas, but sometimes the mix leaves something to be desired. Sometimes it just tastes funny to me. Especially when it’s made with artificial flavors, colors and high fructose corn syrup (most of what you can buy is). So, naturally (no pun intended…) this recipe appealed to me.

And it was so pretty.

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No artificial colors, and it was this beautiful shade of bubble gum pink. Real food, folks.

At any rate, to make this delicious cocktail, you need to cook down some rhubarb to make rhubeena. That’s basically rhubarb juice and sugar. It’s yummy, by the way.

So, I had a pound of rhubarb that I bought from the Monroe Farm Market, and I figured no better way to use it that by mixing it with tequila. Unfortunately, the recipe for rhubeena (available through the link on the local kitchen blog) called for four pounds of rhubarb. Eh, I figured I’d just have a little less, no big deal. But one pound of rhubarb only made me about a cup of rhubeena. Boo.

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In order to get the rhubeena, you need to strain out the pulp after the rhubarb cooks down. When I did that I was left with about a cup and half of rhubarb pulp, and it seemed like such a shame just to throw it out. I decided I could use it in place of (and then some) my usual applesauce in my usual muffin recipe. I played with the spices a little bit and got this sweet and spicy crumbly muffin.

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A couple weeks back, I ordered a jumbo muffin pan from Amazon. I love it. But, I know, I know… the thing that is wrong with America is our ginormous portion sizes. But this is a weekend treat. (We’ve stuck with the smoothie routine on weekdays). Six jumbo muffins are perfect for the weekend. A couple for breakfast and maybe a late afternoon snack with an iced coffee, or dessert after dinner.

At any rate, I thought I’d share the recipe with you. Rhubarb is only here for a short season, so enjoy it while you can.

Rhubarb Wheat Germ Muffins (adapted from Betty Crocker’s Bridal Cookbook)

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used almond)
  • 1 1/4 cups of rhubarb pulp or rhubarb compote (recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 Tb cold butter
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the egg, milk and rhubarb compote. Add the flour, baking powder, salt 1 tsp of cinnamon, ginger and sugar, and mix well only after adding all the dry ingredients. In a small bowl, cut the wheat germ, 1/4 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, sugar and salt into the butter with a pastry cutter or with two butter knives until the butter is pea-sized and well blended. Grease a nonstick muffin pan with butter or coconut oil. Divide the batter evenly into the muffin cups and top each one with the butter mixture. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes for jumbo muffins or 20 minutes for regular. Makes 6 jumbo or 12 regular muffins.

Rhubarb Compote Makes about 1 1/2 cups

  • 1 pound rhubarb stalks, diced into 1/2 pieces
  • 1/3 cup sugar (you can add more if you want it sweeter)
  • 1 Tb lemon juice

Add all ingredients to a medium sauce pan and cover. Cook on medium low heat until the rhubarb breaks down, about 20-ish minutes. Stir occasionally, to keep it from sticking. It should have a chunky applesauce consistency. You can freeze the leftover for another batch of scones or it’s great on plain yogurt.

(I’ve shared this recipe for rhubarb compote last year here, when I used it in rhubarb scones.)

The pinch of salt in the crumble topping is an unexpected twist to these dense muffins. You can always sub out the wheat germ for flour, it’s just that I have a lot of wheat germ that I never use, so I’m always trying to find ways to work it in. It’s a nice texture for the crumble topping.

Enjoy, but hurry with the little bit of rhubarb season that is left!

PROJECT RECIPE: Detox Tabbouleh

When I saw this recipe a while back, I had in mind to make it when we got back from Vegas. I figured it’d be a good idea to do anything with the word “detox” in it upon returning. It is Vegas, after all.

But, I never got around to making it. Faced with a head of cauliflower that would need to be thrown out if I didn’t use it soon, I figured I might as well seize the moment. I hate it that I waited so long, because who cares if this is “detox” tabbouleh. It should be called “delicious” tabbouleh.

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Tabbouleh is a Middle Eastern dish made of bulgur or couscous, chopped tomatoes, parsley, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. It’s considered a salad, but I think it’s best eaten with hummus and pita bread. There was a place here in Charleston, Murad’s, that used to have the best hummus and tabbouleh, that has since closed. I haven’t had any since, and when I saw this recipe, I remembered how much I liked theirs and missed it. This definitely did not disappoint.

The recipe is from the Oh She Glows website. I love that blog. It’s filled to the brim with pictures and recipes of mostly vegetarian and vegan dishes that are absolutely drool-worthy. I visit it frequently for Meatless Monday inspiration. I think I found it originally through Pinterest. It just goes to show the power of beautiful photographs that draw us in.

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: It’s a keeper. It makes a huge batch, actually, and it gets better leftover. The flavors just blend more and more. Even the Hubs, who was skeptical, was won over. And who wouldn’t be? Spicy parsley and juicy tomatoes and the tang of red wine vinegar. It’s a good thing it’s healthy, because the only thing that stopped us was running out of pita bread to eat it with.

How I changed the recipe: I omitted the hulled hemp seeds because I didn’t have any. Also, I didn’t quite use 3/4 cup of cilantro because I simply got tired of cutting it up. I hate cutting up cilantro. I added about a tablespoon of minced garlic. I also added a couple dashes of black pepper.

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 The cauliflower takes the place of the bulgur or couscous in this recipe, making it lower in calories and healthier. Because cauliflower is sorta mild tasting, you don’t even notice that you’re not eating couscous.

Click the link above to check out the recipe (and that awesome website) for yourself. When I was making it, I was thinking that it could be a huge waste of a head of cauliflower, since I love to make roasted curry cauliflower, and that’s what I usually do when I have a whole head to use. But this is pretty darn good, and great for summer, since I didn’t have to heat up my house with the oven roasting the cauliflower. It would be great for a pot luck or cookout, too, since you wouldn’t have to worry about keeping it chilled. It would surely be an unexpected crowd-pleaser! I’ll definitely make it again.

I’m getting Fed Up! Are you?

Wednesday night, I went to see the documentary Fed Up. I left the movie so mad I wanted to shake my fist at the concession stand in the lobby as I left.

I was also sad that there were only a handful of other folks in the theater. It’s a message EVERYONE needs to get.

Here are some nuggets of wisdom from the movie:

By 2030, one in ten adults will have Type II Diabetes.

In 1977, the McGovern Report recommended we all cut back on fat. The  food industry’s response was swift and stealth. Through the 1980s, shelves of grocery stores soon became full of “low-fat,” “fat free,” “low cal” and “lite” versions of all the processed food products we were already used to eating. But because food without fat just isn’t palatable, the food manufacturers replaced it with more sugar.

The World Health Organization recommends people consume no more six teaspoons of added sugar daily. That’s about 25 grams. However, every five days, Americans consume an average of 765 grams of sugar. 

As a matter of fact, a 20-ounce soda has 17 teaspoons of sugar.

In 1980, there were no documented childhood cases of Type II Diabetes. In 2010, there were almost 60,000 cases in the U.S. Type II Diabetes is what used to be known as “adult onset” because it used to typically develop in late adulthood, largely as a result of lifestyle. Those afflicted are becoming younger and younger.

But what makes me so mad is that the food industry knows how bad these products are for us, and they continue to insist there’s nothing wrong with them, putting profits ahead of public health. And, it also makes me mad that our government just willingly looks the other way.

The most compelling parts were also the saddest parts–the stories of the kids who are struggling everyday with obesity.

This movie pulls back the curtain about our food system, the government’s complicit role in our current obesity epidemic, and the biochemistry of what these poisons are doing to us. It’s truly appalling. I wish it were on TV so more people could see it.

In the meantime, check out the website. Some of the resources are really eye-opening. We’re consuming obscene amounts of sugar, and it’s slowing killing us. Even if you already eat well, you might not be aware that sugar is in just about every product on grocery shelves, from salad dressing to sliced bread. And, even if you’re perfect (and none of us are) in your diet, this problem still affects you because our future workforce is being hamstrung by our diets. It’s a public health crisis. Every time steps were taken by the government to reign in sugar consumption, the food industry very deftly fought back time and time again. I realized while sitting in the movie theater, that the only thing that is going to stop the course we’re on is education. That’s why its so important that people see this movie, or at the very least get info from the website.

The simplest thing that we can do to avoid added sugar is to cook our meals at home with whole foods. I have always liked Michael Pollan’s philosophy espoused in his book Cooked.

Here is the Wikipedia entry for the documentary. At the bottom, under the “References” section, is a list of a number of articles about and reviews of the movie, that I found particularly helpful.

Here’s something else related that I wanted to share. A common mantra of the food industry is that a calorie is a calorie. It doesn’t matter where they come from. You’ve probably seen the ads that the corn refiner’s association was running a year or so ago about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). But it’s just not true. Earlier this week, I found this article on twitter about the chemistry of HFCS, specifically in soda. Our bodies have been processing the HFCS in soda on the market today differently than regular table sugar (sucrose). HFCS is made up of both fructose and glucose, and it is indistinguishable from sucrose by our bodies if the ratio is around 50/50 fructose to glucose. The beverage industry reports that HFCS is generally no more than 55% fructose, but studies have revealed that sometimes the proportions are much  more skewed.  It’s no wonder why drinking only one soda a day raises the risk of developing diabetes by a whopping 60%. It’s time we all kick the can habit.

Hello, Dal-ly!

Do you like dal? What’s not to like? Lentils, spices, served over rice. It’s like Indian comfort food, actually. This weekend, I made dinner for my mom, and I had bookmarked a recipe for red lentil dal in my Meatlover’s Meatless Cookbook.

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Making dal is easy because lentils cook up so quickly–compared to other legumes. You can have it on the table in 30 or 40 minutes. It’s a perfect meal for Meatless Monday, actually, because it is so filling. You won’t even miss the meat.

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I didn’t have red lentils, so I used the more widely available green lentils instead. Ironically, the following day, I read a tweet tfrom Fat Salad hat red lentils really should be used for dal because they break down much easier, and green or puy lentils keep their shape. That would explain why the lentils in my dal got soft, but never really turned to mush–like they should for dal. Good to know for future reference.

The recipe I used wasn’t very spicy. I would actually prefer a bit more spice, so I added some curry powder and red pepper flakes after I was done. There are plenty of leftovers, so these will make a great lunch later this week. Like any beans, I’m sure they only get better as leftovers.

I’m still looking for my go-to dal recipe, as this didn’t quite hit the mark. Do you have a go-to recipe to share?

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Roadtrip Heston Farm Winery

Just a few years ago, I noticed a sign for a new winery, Heston Farm Winery, outside of Fairmont on one of my many trips to Morgantown. Word of mouth got around to me about how neat of a place it was to visit. We finally got around to it last weekend. It was a great roadtrip–truly worth the drive a couple hours north for a great meal and a nice setting for tasting some delicious wines.

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 I love to support the local wine industry. It’s not an easy industry. The climate here isn’t the most ideal for growing wine grapes, and many wineries supplement what they do grow with grapes from regions known for vineyards. Nonetheless, there are some great wineries in West Virginia, producing some fantastic wines that would satisfy just about any wine drinker.

Heston Farm Winery is a little bit different. I have to admit, I was skeptical at first, because not only do they produce wine, they produce legal moonshine (corn whiskey) and other spirits. There is also a restaurant on the property. I believe the best wineries produced only a few wines, but do those few very well. Don’t spread yourself so thin and get distracted with lots of projects going at once. Especially when you first open.  But Heston definitely doesn’t follow that philosophy, and it worked out well for them.

The property is absolutely beautiful. There is a pavilion that can host events and gatherings. As a matter of fact, there was a wedding reception there the afternoon we visited. The restaurant and tasting room are on a ridgetop that offers breathtaking views, perfect for enjoying a cold, crisp glass of white wine while taking it all in. There is a small stage featuring local live music. Dinner can be ordered from the restaurant while you sit and listen, even. This seems to be the thing to do on beautiful Saturday evenings, since it was packed. We couldn’t get a table outside for dinner.

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 Inside wasn’t so bad, either, though. The place is kitchy, decorated with antique farm equipment, but not in a cheesy Cracker Barrel kinda way. The wine prices were actually pretty reasonable. I got a red wine flight for six bucks, but glasses were only $5 to $6.

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I’m not a fan of sweet wine, but that is what most West Virginia wineries are known for. This climate is actually not bad for growing sweet varieties of grapes such as Catawbas and Niagaras. I had two fantastic dry red wines in this flight–Merlot and the Cabernet Franc. They had this amazing oakiness to them that I absolutely love about red wines. The two sweet wines were not bad for sweet wines, either.

After dinner, we wandered into the tasting room, but it was super busy. I wanted to try the spirits. The odd thing was, that you could only get either a red tasting–basically the same thing I got in the restaurant–or a white tasting. Samples of the spirits were included with either one. I got a white wine tasting, simply so I could try the spirits. The white wines were pretty good, but I’m more of a red fan. The chardonnay wasn’t bad, and I really don’t care for chardonnay at all. The attendant in the tasting room did mention that it wasn’t aged in oak, but steel. I do like steel aged chardonnay better than oak.

I didn’t try any of the moonshines (they had several flavors) but I did try their two “dark” whiskeys”, a bourbon and a rye. I am a huge fan of bourbon, and theirs isn’t too bad. Of course, they haven’t been open more than a few years, so they’ve only aged their bourbon two years. It’s not bad at all. I even bought a bottle.

It was a gorgeous day for a road trip. With great wine and great company. I would definitely recommend checking this place out if you’re in the Fairmont area.

The legal jargon: Heston Farm Winery did not compensate me for this post. I bought my own food and hooch.

Vegas Eats (and Drinks)

I just got back from a weekend in Las Vegas with the Hubs and some friends. I swear, the older I get, a weekend is about all I can handle.

Sometimes people ask me what we do when we’re in Vegas. Do we gamble? Some, but not a lot. My favorite thing to do in Vegas is to eat. With so many top notch restaurants in such a confined area, it’s hard to decide where to eat when you’re only there for a few days.

Sage at Aria was at the top of my list as it has both Iberico pork and absinthe, two products only recently available in the United States. Do you have a culinary bucket list? I do, and these are two things that were on it. I got to cross off both in one meal.

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Poor picture quality; good quality food.

Iberico pork, or specifically jamon Iberico comes from a specific breed of pig in Spain. Generally, the pigs are left to roam the forests of southern Spain, eating what they forage from the forest floor, including lots of acorns. So, this is markedly different from your typical Tyson pork loin you buy at the local grocery store. The dish on the dinner menu was Iberico pork loin, not the same product as jamon Iberico, but it was very, very good. I have ordered pasture raised pork from the Monroe Farm Market before, and this was pretty much on par with that, but prepared much better. I’m still holding out for some authentic jamon iberico someday.

Sage has a separate absinthe menu, something I’ve not seen anywhere else. The waitstaff are completely versed in the presentation of the cocktail, and it’s quite a show. Absinthe was banned from the United States in 1915, and only in 2007 was the ban lifted. Supposedly, what is available now in the US is a “watered down” version of the original, and there are only trace amounts of the hallucinogenic compound found in it.  I didn’t see any green fairies after I drank this. So who knows?

While the presentation was stunning, the taste was a let down. It was pretty bad. It tasted a lot like Jagermeister, which I hate. But I wanted to try it, and I guess now I can say that I have.

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On this trip, we decided we’d like to try a Thai restaurant. There are a number in Vegas, but when you search the internet or yelp for “best Thai restaurant,” Lotus of Siam pops up. Just a few weeks before we went to Vegas, Tony Bourdain even went there on his show, Parts Unknown.

Sometimes, places I’ve eaten that I’ve seen on TV have been a bit of a disappointment, but I’m here to tell you that this place is legit. It’s not easy to get to if you’re staying on the Strip and don’t have a car. But drop some cab fare, and get over there. It’s a few blocks east of the Strip in a very unassuming strip mall. The word is out on this place, too. We arrived Friday night without reservations, and were told the wait would be an hour. But we stuck it out, and the wait wasn’t quite that long.

The menu is like eight pages. It’s seriously overwhelming. But Tony said the reason to come to this place was for the Chef’s Specialties, so I flipped to the back page to check those out. We started with some appetizers, and I ordered the Nam Prik Noom. It’s a dip like salsa, but thicker, and made from green chilies and garlic. It came to the table with a variety of crunchy vegetables for dipping and something like fried pork rinds. It was amazing. And it was so simple. I cannot wait for peppers to come in season so I can make it myself.

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I ordered short ribs in a spicy coconut sauce. They were so good. Rich and tasty. And, I didn’t realize, but there were noodles hiding in that silk sauce. Score. The Hubs had garlic shrimp, which was unusual because the shells of the shrimp were peeled off about halfway, but left on. Then the whole thing was lightly battered and deep fried. And you ate the whole thing. It was crazy good. Those shells were so crunchy and briney after they were fried.

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We met a friend of ours from home who lives in Vegas now for dinner at Lotus of Siam, and he took us to a couple of his favorite bars downtown after we ate.

Park on Freemont is fairly new, and absolutely adorable. There’s a nice outdoor seating area, that would be perfect for people watching in Downtown Las Vegas, but we got a table inside. I’m not usually one for cocktails–I like beer and wine, but I took a peek at the specialty cocktails menu. I couldn’t resist ordering the “Wombat on Bathsalts” simply because of the name, but it was actually really good. It was tequila blanco, simple syrup, strawberries and lime juice. No wonder I liked it so well, I love margaritas.

The food menu actually looks pretty good, too.

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We visited the Container Park downtown and had a drink in a wine bar. The park is pretty neat because the whole thing is made from shipping containers. There’s even a playground (which we may or may not have had a run through). There are a couple restaurants, including a BBQ place that smelled amazing when we walked by.

The next night was our last night, and we planned to hit up a steakhouse. I couldn’t get reservations that fit our plans at the Homestead in Caesar’s Palace, so we went for Mesa Grill right beside it instead. I’ve wanted to eat here since I stared coming to Vegas several years back because it’s Bobby Flay’s restaurant. And really, its kinda unique in Vegas because there aren’t many restaurants specializing in Southwest cuisine. On the way to our table, we walked past the open kitchen and saw the big red hunks of meat on the grill. Since we didn’t get a steakhouse, we all were sold on getting a steak after seeing that. The special was a 48 ounce prime porterhouse that was aged for 80 days. My friend Chris and i decided to split it, although, it could have easily been split by the five people at the table. It was amazing. And a couple others at the table also ordered steaks, and we tried each other’s. There’s didn’t taste like ours. We chatted up the server (who ended up knowing all kinds of stuff about steak–even though that’s not what they’re known for) who said the difference was that ours was prime and the others were choice. She said that’s why it wasn’t on the menu all the time, because they couldn’t always get prime beef. Obviously, prime steaks are better quality than choice, but the reason is that they typically come from younger cows that have more marbling. This makes it more tender and flavorful. The difference was marked.

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So after that run of meals, naturally I need to detox for a week or so. But man, oh, man. Was it worth it. I cannot wait until my next trip back, because I’ve already got some places I’d like to try.