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Friday, November 29, 2013

Hurts So Good: Aftelier Cuir de Gardenia

By Donna

As any regular reader of this blog knows, I adore white floral perfumes. None of them are too big, too lush or too heady for me, I love them all. Naturally, this includes gardenia scents, and gardenias themselves. There is something so special about these beautiful flowers as they unfurl their petals to reveal the unforgettably potent aroma that can fill a room with the aura of seduction. There are many very good perfumes based on gardenia, but something that may not be well known is that the great majority of these fragrances do not have any actual gardenia in them – they are reconstructions, like lily-of-the-valley and many other flowers whose essence is either impossible or very difficult to capture from nature. It seems odd that gardenias would fall into this category – after all, their thick, heavily scented petals would seem to be ideal for any of several methods of extraction. Well, as it turns out, there is such a thing as real gardenia in perfumery – it's just too rare and special to be used on the large scale of modern commercial methods of making perfume. Enter artisan perfumer Mandy Aftel and her new masterpiece, Cuir de Gardenia, a spectacular composition that features real Tiare absolute; the tiare flower is also known as Tahitian gardenia and is used to scent the famous Monoi oil of the South Sea islands. The Cuir part is a natural leather accord using vintage castoreum and other materials.

I chose to try the solid version, since Mandy makes some of the best solid scents in existence, formulated with organic beeswax and jojoba oil. and it is a perfect way to showcase this unique introduction. Any attempt at objectivity I may have intended to maintain when testing this perfume flew out the window as soon as I smelled it. It floored me with its sheer beauty and originality, and I wanted to consume it in its entirety - smell it, eat it, bathe in it, absorb it and wear it all over my body. Not for the first time, I regretted that humans have a weak sense of smell compared to many other creatures – oh, to have the nose of a tracking dog or a polar bear just to be able to smell more of this. It's the perfume equivalent of looking at someone or something so beautiful that it's almost painful, and you just can't get enough of the object of your desire.

As you might expect, natural gardenia essence smells wonderful, but it does not really resemble the “gardenia” found in the perfumes we all know and love, no matter how good they are. If the cheap stuff is like Tang® is to real orange juice, then one could liken top quality gardenia scents to the premium pasteurized juice found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store – it tastes pretty good until you compare it side by side to freshly squeezed real Valencia orange juice made moments before drinking it. The gardenia note in Cuir de Gardenia is fresh, ripe, divinely sweet and dewy, a true nectar of the gods. There is no trace of the “blue cheese” note or other weird olfactory illusions found in so many gardenia reconstructions. Jasmine absolute contributes its own delicate beauty to the mix, an ideal partner for the gardenia. This fragrance was made to have no top notes so the full effect is immediate, and it's stunning. The leather part is just as good as the florals, and there is nothing crude or raw about it – animalic and sexy yes, but smooth and buttery, enhanced by the subtle honey aroma of the solid perfume base, and utterly delicious once it is warmed by body heat, like inhaling the musky scent of one's beloved. I assume that the oil extrait version is just as good but I am glad I chose to try the solid, it really works with this formula. In my opinion, Cuir de Gardenia is just as much of an achievement as Mandy's famous Cépes and Tuberose, which also combined unexpected elements to push the boundaries of perfumery and make something entirely new. Oh, and the seduction I mentioned earlier? It's all right here, waiting for the alchemical transformation that occurs when perfume meets skin. Let it work its magic on you.

Image credit: Photo of virtuoso traditional Tahitian dancer Matahi Vairaa via I think I may have changed my mind about tattoos on men....I approve.
Disclaimer: My sample was given to me for testing by Aftelier Perfumes.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

By Tom

No post for today- I hope you're celebrating the holiday with loved ones and enjoying the smell of good food.

Photo: Wikipedia

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Foodie Sunday ~ From my Table to Yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

" If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice."  
~Meister Eckhart
By Beth Schreibman Gehring

I love Thanksgiving … it’s become my favorite meal to cook every year. As a child I loved to wake on the day and sneak into the kitchen to watch my mother who was elbow deep in all of her preparations by 7:00 am. I’d spend the morning on a very tall chair dipping my fingers into the stuffing and doing my favorite of the jobs assigned to me which was to stick the marshmallows on the orange and cinnamon scented sweet potato casserole. One for the pan, one for me and on and so on and so forth.

After that, I would set the table with her beautiful Coalport dishes, her wine glasses and her grandmother’s monogrammed sterling. Then she’d send me out to the garden to pick whatever was left of the fall herbs and flowers to put into her napkin rings that were little blocks with holes in them that turned them into vases. I’d arrange them and pull the napkins through. That is still to this day one of my favorite childhood memories.

The Thanksgiving after my mother died was the very first time that I’d ever cooked the whole meal myself. It was also the loneliest holiday of my life. I dreaded the day coming and finally decided that I needed to shake it up a bit. I brined the turkey in a homemade maple, spice and salt brine. I made the sausage for the stuffing from scratch. I didn’t make the scalloped oysters; a dish that is traditional at my family’s thanksgiving table yet almost universally disliked!  Instead of serving wine, I served a vast array of delicious hard ciders and artisanal beers ending with some very fine port. In short I allowed myself to be really creative instead of just sticking to the tried and true and it ended up being a really great day!

As the years have gone on, I’ve noticed that there are more and more children like me. No matter how old we are, if we’ve lost our parents and there’s no other family in town, we generally feel like orphans at this time of year.

I’ve had several Thanksgivings since that first that have been pretty spectacular, but I discovered that I needed to recreate the holiday completely.

 I’ve done this is by shedding all of my superstitions and being brave enough to keep only the traditions that I love while adding plenty of new dishes. Instead of the requisite oysters, I made shrimp and spicy cheese grits.   I’m a Yankee girl through and through but I love rich Mexican flavors so instead of rubbing my turkey with plain butter and fine herbs I use a paste of smoky ancho chiles, garlic, butter, smoked salt, cumin and chili powder! 

I realize that with this next statement that I am killing off two of the truly sacred cows of the traditional Thanksgiving meal.  I’m taking a deep breath now before I say it. Here goes! I REALLY hated the sweet potatoes with the exception of all of those delicious marshmallows.   I truly dislike most versions of pumpkin pie.

Incredibly enough I’m still here!

What I do instead is make a puree of cauliflower, carrots, turnips, onion, garlic and sweet potatoes that I season with a browned butter, fig infused balsamic vinegar and sage reduction.  To replace the pumpkin pie that no one eats, I serve a pumpkin and peanut butter soup as a starter and a side dish that is a pumpkin stuffed with a traditional sage, cornbread, sausage and chestnut stuffing and then baked until it’s buttery and tender. Dessert is an exquisite French Canadian maple pie and often latte’s made of chai tea and sweetened pureed pumpkin.   

What I’ve kept the same? My mother set the most beautiful Thanksgiving table full of brass candlesticks, autumn fruits and vegetables spilling out of her collection of cornucopias and lots of chocolate turkeys and pilgrims. She always had a beautiful centerpiece on the buffet table that she made herself of mums, sunflowers, rust colored roses and fresh pine. I set the table with her Coalport china and her grandma’s silver. I still walk into my garden regardless of the weather to get the herbs and flowers for the napkin rings. 

I serve my mothers nutmeg and garlic infused creamed spinach and never ever will I be able to have a holiday table without a healthy bowlful of her mashed potatoes because Alex would never come for dinner again. I am sworn to secrecy with this recipe but I will say two things- one bag of russet potatoes to three sticks of butter. Alex’s place setting is always set with a bottle of A1 sauce his favorite condiment since childhood and the one thing allowed on her table that wasn’t silver, porcelain or crystal. Such is the strength of a grandmother’s love.

 If you are finding yourself in the same position as I did so many years ago I hope to have given you a way to create a holiday of your own that is rich in memories and full of new traditions. It is the only way that I have known to move on while at the same time honoring those who are at the very core   of our memories.   If you are lucky enough to still have all of your loved ones at the table take a look around and cherish every one of them and know that from my table come wishes to you and yours for a fabulous holiday season filled with too much laughter, love and thanks for your continued faith in me and my words. If you would like some of my favorite holiday recipes, I've got 11 of them ready to send to you (Including my fairly famous eggnog and bourbon milk punch!) as my gift! Please leave your email in your comment and I'll mail them right out to you under a subject line called Home for the Holidays!

With all my love and many thanks,
Beth Schreibman Gehring

 Picture of Pumpkin Soup is not mine, but I have no idea who to attribute this lovely image to!

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Old New Things: Sky by Gendarme

or, Once More Into The Cupboard

By Tom

One of the things that resurfaced in my more was the sample of Gendarme Sky I received as part of the LA Sniffa back in '07.  At the time I wrote:

"For those of you who have never heard the story of Gendarme, it's an interesting one: apparently the founder, Topper Schroeder was gifted with a large amount of a cologne that was hypo-allergenic, but was not going to be produced. He gifted various music business friends with it and it eventually made its way into Fred Segal, which is where I found it in 1991. It's a fresh, soapy citrus which I found perfect for a hot summer day. I think I even kept it in the icebox just for that purpose. Over the years I sort of forgot about it, as I became less fresh and soapy and more leathery and musky. (no comments from the peanut gallery, thanks)

"There are no notes available for SKY, so I am going only by smell here, but like Victoria, I smell bergamot in the opening. I also get a slightly soapy rosemary. On me there is a definite stage of a very light but discernible sage in the middle, sort of like the dried sage leaves that one buys to "smudge" the room with (I like this stage immensely). I never get any of the dreaded aquatic, I just get this saginess and a final drydown of very light woods, like a super-lightened version of Chene.

"This is a (and others have wrote the same thing) soft scent, and very unisex. It's not at all what I expected- it's soft, but it has dimension. It's unisex, but it's not insipid in that let's-mix-up-a-bunch-of-citrus-and-call-it-a-day way that some companies do. It also has an oddly sly sillage for such a light scent. I gave myself a pretty decent spritz of it and was getting little twinkles of it all day.

"Would I buy it? Sure: it has a nice summery, beachy feel with a bit of that clean-sheets accord that's as close to ozone as I like to get. If I'd had this in my collection this past summer when Los Angeles was suffering under a wiltingly humid July I'd have happily doused myself in it. It was a nice sunny scent to wear on a drab, chilly and rainy Presidents day as well."

Do I feel the same way today? Well, yes and no. I am not allowed to wear any scent at work, so when I am off duty the last thing I want is something that's so under the radar. I also think that in the last years there are scents that do this "clean" thing better, like the one that everyone was so upset that Uncle Serge put out. I think the fact that I still have most of the sample after nearly 7 years says something.

In it's favor is that there several places online where you can get a bottle for a little more than $30. I think I'll still be wearing something a little more definite in my leisure time, but if I were still in an office where cologne was tolerated more I might indulge.

Image: Internets

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Revisiting Old Friends

By Tom

One of the things about moving (other than you get rid of a lot of stuff you no longer use) is rediscovering some of the things you have you'd forgotten about. Like the copy of a Martha Stewart cookbook that I was convinced I'd loaned to a friend, but stumbled across inside of an old briefcase I hadn't looked into in years.

It was true with some of my 'fumes as well. I did actually give some away- ones that I hadn't used in years and I even sold some off. But there were a few that I rediscovered and couldn't part with.

One was Yatagan. I love this scent, with it's intense, retro vibe. I'll just be lazy and cut and paste Marina's take on it since she's spot on: "Yatagan smells of grass, moss, earth, leather and hot, hungry, cruel bodies. It is an uncompromisingly dry and austere fragrance with no frills, i.e. no sweetness and no flowers. The first accord hits you with dark, sharp greenness of wormwood and artemisia, and after that aggressive start the scent never subsides, never relents. It gets darker and earthier, with notes of patchouli, vetiver, moss and labdanum being most prominent in the composition. Several wonderfully weird hours later, the leather and musk creep in bringing an even drier and quite animalic quality to the blend. Dirty, dry, devilishly alluring, Yatagan is one of the strangest scents I have ever loved, a dark balm for my 'Mongolian' soul."

I will add that I get a distinct note of celery in the opening, slightly bitter and very green. I think my bottle is likely very vintage, since it's far stronger than what's being peddled these days at LuckyScent and other places. That new Yatagan seems to have it's edge dulled a bit. My bottle is has more of a hairy-chested 70's kind of vibe to it. The new one seems a bot, well, waxed to me. But I think the new one is likely far more wearable than the old.

I'm not sure which formulation is being sold at Target in the US, but it's certainly a bargain at $29.39 for 4.2 ounces. My bottle was bought for about that years ago on South Broadway in downtown LA.

Photo stolen from Marina's review

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Foodie Sunday: The Delicate Magic of Aftelier Perfumed Teas

By Donna

Mandy Aftel is a busy woman – not content with making some of the most sublime artisan fragrances in the world, she branched out with her Chef's Essences to transform the world of food and cocktails, and now she brings us the latest chapter in her creative odyssey with the introduction of a line of scented organic teas. I was very intrigued when I learned about these, because I had stopped drinking coffee several months ago and I was exploring different teas to discover what I liked outside of my usual comfort zone of Earl Grey, Yorkshire style and Jasmine black teas, with occasional forays into green teas, flavored or not. I have always loved tea, but in recent years I became a coffee drinker – after all, I live in Oregon, where it's practically the law to drink lattes! For various reasons, I decided to make the switch when I was facing some health challenges, and it was made easier by my discovery of some new types of tea. One of my favorites now is Chai style black tea, with Stash® Double Spice Chai being my morning beverage of choice so far; with unsweetened almond or soy milk added, it is a comforting cup on a chilly day. I was really interested in the ideas of a green tea chai, so I was eager to try Mandy's new Matcha Chai.

The first of the new trio I tested was the organic Rose Ginger Oolong. I am especially fond of the subtly smoky Oolong style, but it had been some time since I had kept it in my revolving selection of teas. This tea is simply exquisite and ideal for a lover of all things rose like me, a perfect balance of spicy ginger and heady Turkish rose. Mandy recommended re-steeping the leaves to see how the flavor changed; this made the rose more prominent the second time around, and it was delightful. The fragrance still allows for the Oolong character of the tea to shine through, and it is just perfect in that regard. I want this for one of my summer staples.

Next up was the very unusual Frankincense GABA Oolong, featuring an ingredient that is associated almost exclusively with perfumery and not for consumption, but if I had any doubts about it as a flavoring, they evaporated as soon as I tasted this marvelously resinous tea. Smooth as silk and divinely scented, it was a real revelation. Re-steeping this one made it even smoother, like drinking perfumed velvet. I am a convert! The GABA refers to a naturally occurring amino acid that may assist in elevating one's mood and enhancing relaxation. It is not a tea for a hurried morning; it deserves to be savored slowly to capture every last fragrant sensation. This and a cozy lap robe are the ideal ingredients for a winter's evening or a lazy afternoon.

What was really interesting about the two Oolongs was how even after being used twice, the leaves still retain their fragrance; I dried them out and saved them, and they could easily be used in a sachet or potpourri, and I could even make tea with them again.

I saved the Matcha Chai for last. Japanese matcha is the best quality green tea – instead of steeping the leaves, they are pulverized so the entire leaf is consumed, so drinking it supplies a much higher dose of the antioxidants for which green tea is famous. I was afraid that I would mess it up since I don't have the “official” matcha making tools such as a bamboo whisk, but no worries, it mixed into the water just fine. This very high grade of matcha, which is the kind used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, is as fine as face powder and blends instantly. I was not sure how strong to make it, so I made one very weak cup and one very strong one, then mixed and added more hot water as needed until I found the perfect “Goldilocks” balance. When the brew is more delicate, the chai flavors come to the fore, while in a stronger concentration the bracing flavor of the tea itself is more prominent. I had not drunk matcha tea for a long time, although I have often had other food items flavored with it, and this is exponentially better than any I have ever tasted. The tea leaves are much less astringent than you might expect and have an almost oceanic character, like breathing fresh sea air, and I enjoyed that just as much as I did the aroma and taste of the chai spices. I tested the Matcha Chai on a day when I had the time to experiment and enjoy it slowly. It does have a different effect on me than regular tea, and I think it packs more of a caffeine punch than drinking ordinary green tea, because it really gave me an energy boost, and the amount I consumed was actually quite small. I am now convinced that I need to add Matcha to my mornings, for reasons of both health and pleasure, and I can't think of a better way to do it than with this wonderful version of the ultimate in green tea. I can only hope that more flavors of matcha tea will be forthcoming from Aftelier Perfumes.

Image credit: Woman performing a tea ceremony via The Unstuck Diaries at, original source unknown.
Disclosure: I received the tea samples for testing directly from Aftelier Perfumes.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

By Tom

I think I am perhaps the last person in the blogosphere who hasn’t reviewed puredistance Black. I blame the post office, who either lost of absconded with the press sample the company first sent me.

Having gotten the second one, if my postal person lifted it I can’t really blame him or her. It’s worth a federal offense to wear something this sumptuous.

Puredistance names no notes in their press release, exhorting us to “Envision. Smell. Feel. Don’t analyse..”

Yeah, like that will happen.

I get super-smooth spices and leather with a touch of fresh mint.  The spices are lovely- even the cumin, which can be slightly, well... earthy in other scents. There seems to be a bit of stewed fruits in there as well. The whole scent is almost “chewy” in it’s lushness. Lasting power is excellent- easily 12 hours.

Like all the scents in this line, it’s clear that no expense was spared in creating this. It comes with a price point that makes it completely out of my reach. In an earlier review of another one of their scents I compared it to a Bentley automobile: I can’t afford one but I am glad that it’s out there.

Puredistance Black is $198 for the 17.5ML, $330 for 60ML. and $590 for 100ML. My sample came from Puredistance.

Image: LuckyScent