Strange Tales from the Cookie Kitchen.

“Look up here, I’m in heaven I’ve got scars that can’t be seen, I`ve got drama, can’t be stolen, Everybody knows me now.  LAZARUS.  David Bowie.       

THE UNSTERBLICHE (THE IMMORTAL) SISTER WALLNER.  1923 – 2011.          

 

I first met Sister Wallner after the birth of my son, 1993.   She came to visit me in the hospital with a homemade applesauce, which she had put into a glass jar that had previously been filled with  pickled garlic.  “Sister” because she was a member of the same church as I was, where everyone is called/or can be called “brother” and “sister”.  Although I became very good friends with both her and her family, I never called her anything other than Sister Wallner.

At the end of WWII Sister Wallner walked back from from Greece to Austria, through Yugoslavia.  Yes, walked.  We do know that it was extremely traumatic, and she carried the scars throughout her life.  It did not kill her though.

In 2003 Sister Wallner had two hip replacements within a very short time of one another, and was sent to the rehabilitation centre to recover and to start physiotherapy.  She was told under no circumstances could she leave leave the hospital grounds.  Unfortunately the people in charge had no idea that you couldn’t tell her what to do.  She shot off one evening, as fast as she could on two sticks, and indeed did walk out of the hospital, onto the pavement, and then decided to cross the road, on a curve.  The Audi A3 was going way too fast, and she should not have been there.

Her daughter, (the infamous Doctor Fox, my eternal partner-in-crime, but that’s a Strange Tale for another day) and son-in-law received a phone call, informing them that Sister Wallner/mother/mother-in-law was lying in the intensive care unit and things were not looking good.  They lived about a 45 minute drive away, and so called us to go straight up to the hospital, and they would meet us there.   We were and still are only a five minute drive away.

Sister Wallner was unconscious, green skin, black and blue eyes like you have never seen, a massive cut on her head; I thought that my husband was gonna pass out when he saw her, as he too turned the same shade of green.  For the first time I offered a prayer for her well-being, little knowing that I would find myself doing the same thing many years later.  It did not kill her though.

As she became older she began to have various strange episodes and was at times extremely difficult, and Dr. Fox and I cared for her Mum in different ways. Together we moved her from her home of many years, into a smaller apartment.   Dr Fox and her family had moved into the area several years earlier to be closer to her mother.   Around 2008 Sister Wallner’s health, both physical and mental, started to go downhill.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE. 

I had just come out of the supermarket and was loading the car, when I got a call from Dr.  Fox.  “My Mom has just slumped over, and is dying, and if you wanna see her you had better get your ass down here quick.”  I was there so fast, like in two minutes.  Parked the car, and ran upstairs.  It was 11:00.

I ran in through the  door the same time as Dr S arrived.  Now let’s be clear, this was not a doctor that was coming to rescue Sister Wallner, no.  This was the  doctor dude from the council who had come to reevaluate her level of care, to increase the level of financial aid she was receiving.  Which was why Dr Fox was there in the first place.

Sister Wallner was a Grinchy shade of green, not breathing, and had her eyes been open, she would have been staring vacantly.  It was not the first time that Dr Fox and I had been confronted with a dying person – unlike the doctor apparently, who took a quick pulse check, started sweating profusely, and started walking circles in the kitchen. Dr Fox and I were holding her slumped Mom between us.  We told the guy to go home.  He did mumble something about maybe calling an ambulance, but we sent him packing,  telling  him we would deal with the situation ourselves.

Between us, we carried the ever-so-slightly-stiffening, and bloody heavy,  Sister Wallner into her living room and laid her on the sofa.  Once again I offered a prayer, asking that she be taken in peace.  Dr Fox called her husband and said her mom had just died.  I called my husband and said Sister Wallner just died.  Dr Fox called meals-on-wheels and said Frau Wallner had died and would not be needing her Mittagessen.  We sat at her mother’s side.

Suddenly Sister Wallner took an almighty great big breath, and started to sit up.  “I’m hungry, where’s lunch?”

We called our husbands and said it was false alarm.   They were not surprised,  a bit weird yeah, but then you really have to know our two families to understand where things are on the weird scale.  The tipping point for us was when Dr Fox called the meals-on-wheels back and told them that Sister Wallner had not in fact turned-up-her-toes, and that she would like her lunch delivered, preferably as soon as possible, and we started to laugh, albeit tinged with hysterics.   And this did not kill her.

As sure as little apples grow on trees, this happened.

After this episode we were fortunate to be given a place in the Altersheim (Old Folks’ Home) here for Sister Wallner.  She had no idea that she was going into one.  Dr Fox organized it all and waited there, as I went to pick Sister Wallner up from outside her apartment, having lied to her about going out for tea, to get her to come out and wait for me.  Basically a kidnapping.  I took her to the home, and she was not a happy camper.  But after a relatively short period of time, she  settled down, and lost a lot of her stubbornness and her need to fight so many battles.  She softened after having had such an incredibly difficult life, and began to have some peace.

Of course she did die.  Because no one is immortal.  It was the 24th of November 2011.  My birthday.  Dr Fox was on her way over to me to celebrate it, when she got the call from the Old Folk’s Home. “Your mother has been taken into hospital and you need to hurry I you want to see her before she passes away.”  Been there, done that, she thought. She called me and said “My Mom is dying again and if you wanna see her, meet me at the hospital.”  We hurried, but this time we were too late.

CQ of APJ

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Dr Fox and I have talked about this experience we had together many times over the years.  Recently Dr Fox`s daughter, a medic, said it would seem that this might have been what is known as the Lazarus Syndrome, so rare that not fifty cases have been recorded.    The spontaneous return of a normal heartbeat after failed attempts of resuscitation. Except no one tried to resuscitate her.  Why would you?  She was the Unsterbliche Sister Wallner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reading Diary – Dark/Atmospheric Books

I normally steer clear of any books or television/films that might be even remotely upsetting. However, I’m currently receiving CBT and therefore trying not to avoid anxiety as much. I’ve been reading darker novels that I’d never have considered previously. I have to say that it’s been surprisingly entertaining. Creeping yourself out can be weirdly thrilling when you’re safe at home.

Around Halloween I read some of the short stories by H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe which I plan on making a yearly event. Below are the complete novels I read.

 

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

“When your dreams come true, your true has moved. You’ve already stopped being the person who had the dreams, so it feels more like a weird echo of something that already happened to you a long time ago.”

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The blurb for this post-apocalyptic horror novel doesn’t tell you what’s it really about but I’m going to talk about it below because it’s pretty obvious early on and I think if you go into it expecting somehting else you may be disappointed. The book starts with ten-year old Melanie being strapped into a wheelchair at gunpoint and taken from her cell to a classroom with other children in a similar condition. Melanie has a genius level IQ and adores her only kind teacher, Miss Justineau. They are all confined to an underground army bunker in rural England. Soon, we learn that a pandemic swept through the world twenty years previously and the only civilisation left in the UK is a place called Beacon on the South Coast.

SPOILER REVIEW

The virus turned people into ‘hungries’ (read zombies) who attack and feed on other humans, passing on the virus. We gradually find out what is really happening in the bunker and why.

This book had great reviews and there was a film adaptation starring Glenn Close in 2016. It is certainly action-packed but it is also very character focused which I imagine sets it apart from a lot of other zombie books. I didn’t find it frightening but it is rather gory. It didn’t have the literary merit and atmosphere of Station Eleven but it was hard to put down at times. 3.75/5

 

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

“As is well-known, when the moon hours lengthen, human beings come adrift from the regularity of their mechanical clocks. They nod at noon, dream in waking hours, open their eyes wide to the pitch-black night. It is a time of magic. And as the borders between night and day stretch to their thinnest, so too do the borders between worlds. Dreams and stories merge with lived experience, the dead and the living brush against each other in their comings and goings, and the past and the present touch and overlap. Unexpected things can happen.”

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I’m smiled inwardly after reading the first page of Once Upon A River because I knew it was going to be just my kind of book. Darkly atmospheric, historical and gorgeously written. The book is set in Victorian England along the River Thames in Oxfordshire. One winter solstice, an injured man stumbles into the Swan Inn carrying a drowned girl. Before the night is out, the little girl comes back to life. The next day, several people arrive claiming she belongs to them, including a couple whose daughter was kidnapped two years ago.

The young girl is mute and the mystery surrounding who she really is deepens as we learn more about the various characters and their secrets. It unfolds at a gentle pace but I read the final quarter in one sitting as we start to get some answers. However, there is always a fine line between reality and myth and that’s what I love about it. It’s part historical fiction, part fairy-tale. Some aspects could be explained rationally or could be put down to the magical. That’s for the reader to decide. I look forward to reading the author’s debut, The Thirteenth Tale. 5/5

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

 

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“For a while I was looking for a person but I didn’t find them and after that I was looking for myself. Now that I’ve found me I’m back to exploring, which is what I was doing in the first place before I was doing anything else and I think I was supposed to be exploring all along.”

I usually 99p for my ebooks but when I heard that the author of The Night Circus was finally releasing a new book on 5th November, I pre-ordered it for £9.99. The Night Circus is not a perfect book by any means but it’s the most memorably atmospheric I’ve ever read and I’m all about the atmosphere. Fans like me have waited 8 years for a follow up. It seems to have been greeted with a raft of gushing reviews and 5 star ratings. I was ready to give it 5 stars myself until I got into it…

The Starless Sea is an ode to storytelling and indeed, their are stories within stories as well as a number of mentions of other books and authors including The Shadow of the Wind, The Little Stranger, Donna Tartt and Raymond Chandler. A short way in, our main character Zachary, who is a video games grad student in New England, not only finds a story from his own life within the pages of a book but also the fairy-tale like chapters we have just read.  Zachary finds his way through a portal to the home of these stories. It’s a magical underground library called The Harbor and his time there alternates with tales that read like fables.

On the face of it, this book ticks a lot of my boxes, it has a magical setting, good diversity, poetic writing and a clever structure. I kept wondering why I wasn’t really enjoying it After some thought, I feel it’s the lack of a cohesive plot, a nice but bland central character and a setting that didn’t captivate me. Zachary bumbles around library with no clear motivation following one vague ‘clue’ after another. There was a suggestion of a threat but this doesn’t amount to anything. Where I was desperate to visit The Night Circus I had zero desire to go to The Harbor/The Starless Sea. It didn’t possess an ounce of the previous setting’s magic. It says that its heyday is now over and boy, did I feel it. Zachary’s meanderings become more and more convoluted (I have a high threshold for weirdness but Alice in Wonderland-style bizarreness is not for me). I just didn’t care enough about him or the meaning of it all. It got to the point where I just wanted to be done with it. Very sad. 2.5/5

 

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

“God has had His chance to free me, and for reasons known to Him alone, He has pinned me to ill fortune, and although I have struggled, I am run through and through with disaster; I am knifed to the hilt with fate.”

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Burial Rites is historical fiction based on the events surrounding the last person to be executed in Iceland in 1830, Agnes Magnusdottir. Agnes was convicted along with two others of the murder of two men. While awaiting her sentence to be carried out, she was placed in the custody of a family on their farm. One of the amazing things about this novel is how the Aussie author manages to make you feel like you’re there in this poverty-stricken, almost claustrophobic atmosphere where everyone sleeps in the same room – family, farmhands and convicted murderer.

Agnes is entitled to religious counsel to help her prepare for her death and she requests a young assistant priest. He is naive and woefully out of his depth but over time he and Agnes form a bond.  After being initially horrified, even the family begin to empathise with her position and we gradually learn what happened to Agnes and the murders. At the end of the book, Hannah Kent tells us how the book came about. Apparently this was a notorious case in Iceland and people still know of it today. The novel is based on local histories and various records with meticulous research. Agnes was cast as an instigator, an inhuman witch, but here Kent restores her humanity and teaches us all a lesson in empathy. It’s slow paced and not an easy read, but a worthwhile one. 4/5

 

I’m not about to start reading crime novels about female victims but if you have any darker reads to recommend, please let me know in the comments.

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Voyage 2019 by Hiram Green

Notes: Citrus, Lotus Flower, Amber and Vanilla

 

Indie perfumer Hiram Green released the luminous rose Lustre earlier this year and before that, the intoxicating Hyde which quite rightly won an Art and Olfaction Award.

He has now launched a new limited edition version of Voyage, a fragrance that had a limited run of 250 bottles back in 2015. It was inspired by Indian street markets and the floating palace on Lake Pichola in Rajasthan.  I wasn’t fortunate enough to experience that first version but it included a suede note that has now been replaced in Voyage 2019 by lotus flower, the national flower of India.

Voyage 2019 50 ml (1)

Voyage 2019 opens with smooth and glowing orange-tinted citrus, undercut by what my nose reads as a velvety musk. As the lotus flower comes through, it gives the fragrance a lift with its refreshing flow of water drenched petals.

This version has been designed to be lighter and more tropical than the original and it does have a subtle languid quality. I don’t generally enjoy straight-up florals because they are often rather ‘much of a muchness’ and can be rather vapid. However, I do have a soft spot for sultry florals, especially when layered over an appealing crème brulee base, as here. There’s a nice contrast between the freshness of the lotus flower and the cosiness of the drydown: like the feel of a warm breeze over hot skin.

I don’t detect spiciness except for a kind of mellow warmth and a resinous facet that is reminiscent of sticks of unlit incense.

The base is a slightly smoky vanilla which is no doubt where the use of natural materials really comes into its own. It isn’t a thick synthetic cupcake aroma but a pillowy soft vanilla with a burnt caramel edge, stopping it from being overly sweet (not to mention obnoxious). Voyage 2019 starts off on a tropical island and ends in comforting home territory.

I get low-to-moderate projection from this Eau de Parfum but it does last extraordinarily well. I’d recommend Voyage 2019 to those who love cosy yet buoyant ambery vanillas and anyone who is a fan of soft-focus floral oriental fragrances. It’s an incredibly easy to wear perfume offering warmth and comfort with an exotic floral twist.

Only 280 bottles will be available exclusively online from the Hiram Green website where you can also buy a sample if you’d like to test it out for yourself.

 

 

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How do you feel about floral oriental perfumes? Do you have a favourite?

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Mon Guerlain EdP Florale by Guerlain

By Portia

Hey A Bottled Rosers!

It’s really cooling down up in the northern hemisphere right now. Most of your jaunty citrus and mint fragrances are taking a back seat to the warming delights of amber, vanilla and woods. For those of us who love something sweet and pretty, and those looking for a beautiful gift for the holiday season, I’m enjoying my Mon Guerlain EdP Florale so much more than I ever did the original. I loved the first but there are days when it’s just too thick and syrupy.

Mon Guerlain EdP Florale 2018

Thierry Wasser

Parfumo gives these featured accords:
Top: True lavender, Bergamot
Heart: Jasmine sambac, Peony, Paradisone®, Ylang-ylang
Base: Iris, Sandalwood, Vanilla

On first spritz the vanilla already shines through. Playing perfectly alongside a sheer lavender and warm, very lightly banana-ish ylang and a dry cardboard iris. Far less intense and more spacious, like the original has been given room to breathe. Within this newfound airiness is a much less confrontational scent, now its prettier, more wearable and less smelling like a lavender nougat, more like fine fragrance. As if Mon Guerlain was a mod and Mon Guerlain EdP Florale the final, perfect product.

 

Legendary longevity, I can still smell the sweet Mon Guerlain essence at the end of a gig and even the next morning there are soft remnants of it floating around my body. Dry down is an attenuated heart, once the initial fireworks are over the changes are infinitesimal, just diminution. While definitely leaning towards the traditional feminine spectrum there is no reason a guy couldn’t get his Mon Guerlain EdP Florale on. It’s not a million miles away from Pour un Homme de Caron.

 

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Have you spent any time with the Mon Guerlain range? Do you have a favourite yet? That rose one this year was good too.

Portia xx

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Reading Diary – September/October 2019

I never really feel guilty about staying indoors reading but it’s as if I have more of an excuse when the summer is over and the weather takes a turn for the worse. Autumn officially feels like the start of reading season.

I’m also excited about creepy reads for Halloween which will include H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe.

Here’s what I’ve read over the last two months.

 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too.”

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I’ve heard about this book time and time again and was in the rare mood for contemporary fiction. It’s about two families who live in the coveted Shaker Heights neighbourhood in Ohio. The privileged Richardsons have rented out an apartment to artist Mia and her teenage daughter, Pearl. Peart makes friends with three of the Richardson children and the families become increasingly intertwined. Relations become tense for a number of reasons and then the whole situation and pace of the novel is ramped up by divisions over the adoption of an abandoned Chinese baby by a wealthy white couple. It’s not a spoiler to say this culminates in the black sheep of the Richardson family burning their house down (not a spoiler). It’s a book about mothers and daughters, coming-of-age and how the choices we make in life as a result of society’s values can lead to resentment later in life. 4/5

 

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Toikein

“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

I enjoyed reading The Hobbit last year but had a false start with The Fellowship of the Ring. I’ve finally managed to get through all three books. I didn’t leave gaps in between once I heard that The Lord of the Rings is actually one book split into three volumes.

I liked the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring because it’s set in The Shire and I’m fond of the Hobbits and their Hobbit holes. Like them, I love my creature comforts. The problem came when they set off and it was an awful lot of describing their route traipsing across the countryside. I mean pages and pages. I found much of the first half of the book tedious and would have put it at 2 stars. I also admit to skipping through the verses of song unless it seemed they were integral to the plot (usually not). The second half picked up considerably though as they met new characters and visited more interesting places. By the end I was hooked to the point where I looked up a map of Middle Earth.   3.5/5.

The Two Towers (5/5) and The Return of the King (5/5) were both excellent with the adventure really taking off. I was totally taken with the love between Frodo and Sam. I didn’t know before starting, that it is, in part, a treatise against industrialisation but it’s very evident in the final section the novel which didn’t quit sit right. In any case that only dropped it down from a 6/5 to a 5/5.

From the first book I could see its huge influence on modern day fantasy writers like J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin. Very happy I’ve finally read it.

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La Belle Sauvage, The Book of Dust Volume One by Philip Pullman

“He was liked when noticed, but not noticed much, and that did him no harm either.”

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I was dying to return to the world of my favourite trilogy His Dark Materials when the first volume of the second trilogy in the series was released in 2017. Sadly, La Belle Sauvage was slow to get going and I ended up putting it down only a little way in. Lyra is such a compelling character that having her present only as baby leaves a huge hole. What pushed me to pick it up again and finish it was the imminent release of Volume 2. Once I got into it, I enjoyed La Belle Sauvage but it felt more like a spin-off or a prequel to the rest of the series, which it is considering its set ten years before the start of His Dark Materials. It didn’t have quite the same feel of the original trilogy or the overarching mystery. It’s essentially a chase story as endearing eleven year-old Malcolm seeks to protect Lyra from the pursuers after a biblical-style flood. 3.75/5

 

The Secret Commonwealth, The Book of Dust Volume Two by Philip Pullman

“Has reason ever created a poem, or a symphony, or a painting? If rationality can’t see things like the secret commonwealth, it’s because rationality’s vision is limited … We need to imagine as well as measure …”

Lyra is now twenty years-old and man, is it good to catch up with her again. I wouldn’t say you absolutely must read La Belle Sauvage first (although it does fill in the background of a few characters, adding to the reading experience) but I would definitely recommend reading at least the last two chapters of The Amber Spyglass. We are plunged into a new intrigue but this one revolves around, guess what? Rose oil! Heartbreakingly, Lyra and Pan are estranged – showing the consequences of becoming a stranger to yourself. Other interesting themes of the book concern the demeaning of imagination and the manipulation of facts to serve an agenda (which feels very relevant in this ‘post-truth’ age). What did feel rather heavy-handed and jarring was the inclusion of a Syrian refugee crisis.  Another small criticism is that it was a tad too long and sprawling in scope. All the same, what am I going to do if I have to wait 2 YEARS for the conclusion? 4.75/5

On a side note, what frustrate me is that all these books are often categorised as ‘Children/Young Adult’ because they have a young protagonist. This might put adults off reading them. As I suspected, in an interview Philip Pullman said that he wrote them all with adults in mind. In both these recent books, aside from the ‘F-bomb’ being dropped a number of times, there are scenes of murder and sexual assault. In the first there is a character who is a paedophile and in the second there is a graphic suicide. Definitely not for younger readers.

 

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My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

“There is music blasting from Ayoola’s room, she’s listening to Whitney Housten’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. It would be more appropriate to play Brymo or Lorde, something solemn or yearning, rather than the musical equivalent of a pack of M&Ms”

This book set in Lagos, Nigeria, has been everywhere lately and so when it came up for a pound, I bought it despite rarely, if ever, reading thrillers. That stunning cover art also helped tip the balance (the reflection in the lenses!). As you can tell from the title, this book is about two sisters. Korede, a nurse, is the older sister and narrator while Ayoola is as beautiful as she is self-obsessed not to mention psychopathic. After an abusive childhood Korede has taken on the role of her sister’s protector to heart. This extends to cleaning up and disposing of the bodies of the three boyfriends Ayoola has killed by the time the book opens. The situation escalates when the latest man to become enthralled by her is the kind-hearted doctor who is the object of Korede’s affection.

I was nervous going in because some have said this book has horror elements but there is very little gore and it’s not frightening. I’ve also seen it referred to as darkly comic but while I found it entertaining I only really found it funny at one point – but that’s a personal thing. It’s a fast-paced page-turner that you can devour in a day. I did. 4/5

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Have you read one of these or any other book you’d like to share? Do you find you read more in the autumn/fall?

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Recipes from the Cookie Kitchen – Even Better Than the Real Thing Vegan Fudgy Brownies

I sell more vegan brownies than I do the Classic Fudgy Brownies,  That is not because they are better, but because they are more hip.   Do not underestimate them though. They are just as good, and some say even better than the real thing.

As with the Fudgy Brownie recipe, this too is the exact recipe I use in my business. Follow the recipe to the letter.  Do not attempt to tweak it.  I did already.  These are as fudgy as brownies should be.  No cake-like brownies on my watch.

INGREDIENTS

Attention.  You will need a food processor or a blender.

90 grammes of SILKEN tofu.  I prefer what you get in the Asian stores, but you can buy it wherever so long as it is the silken kind.

1/2 cup of oil.  (about 120 ml)  I use rapeseed oil, but sunflower or peanut is fine. A tasteless oil is best.

1/4 cup non-dairy milk (about 60 ml)  Oat, soy, almond ….  Whatever.

1 cup of sugar (half soft brown and half white if you want)

1 cup of flour — about 160 grammes (I often use half spelt, and half wheat.  All spelt is too much!)

1/2 cup of the absolute best cocoa powder you can afford.  I use Valrhona.

2 teaspoons of vanilla

1 level tablespoon cornstarch.

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

METHOD – as ever, read this through several times before you start.

Line your 8 inch square brownie tin with greaseproof paper/baking parchment/backpapier – whatever you call it.

Have a mixing bowl ready for the brownie batter.

Preheat the oven to 325°f or 162°c (Well, 160°c is fine!)

As with all recipes, put the ingredients out and in front of you.  Double check.  It is the only way to prepare to bake.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, cornstarch and salt into a bowl.  Put it on the side.

Have the sugar ready of course.

Put the tofu, the nondairy milk, and the oil into a food blender/food processor.  Put it on high speed and whip the crap out of it, it will become smooth, and fairly thick and creamy.   Scrape the sides down as necessary.

Put this tofu mixture into the mixing bowl, add the sugar, and whisk with fervent zeal. Add the vanilla and stir in.

Add your flour mixture,  ideally sift it in, but you don’t have to.  Fold it into the wet ingredients, until it becomes smooth.  You need to maybe use a bit of oomph, it will be pretty thick.

Put the batter into the pan.  You can push it down and into the corners with the back of a spoon.  It will be too thick to spread out on its own.  It will spread out a little during baking so you don’t have to get too manic about spreading it out precisely.

I put pecan nuts on the top because they are so delicious and have a great crunch.  That is optional though and you do not have to do that.

Bake them for about 30 minutes.  Do not overbake.  You will see when they are set it is pretty obvious.

Let them cool.  Eat.  If there are any left over you can keep them in the fridge or just covered.  Depends if you like cold brownies or not.

CQ.  

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The above photos are all pics from me doubling the mass.  Just so you know.

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Eau de Minthé by Diptyque

By Portia

Hi there A Bottled Rose.

New Diptyque will often get me excited. They are some of the niche groundbreakers and almost all of their fragrances have a perfectly finished quality, that lovely smooth story that has enough twists to keep you interested but done with such aplomb that you miss it, unless you’re paying attention. They are practically mainstream nowadays and are in large department stores all over the world. Do they even have stand alone stores?

Eau de Minthé by Diptyque 2019

Parfumo gives these featured accords:
Mint, Nutmeg, Rose, Patchouli

OOOOH Minty goodness, like a herbal mint tea with some spices giving it an added warmth. Yes, the opening zings and is very refreshing but eau de Minthé is not only a hot weather fragrance. It also works perfectly in the cool. The greenery is given sheer earthy warmth from the patchouli. Modern patchouli.

I recently bought some patchouli dark essential oil. We used to sell patchouli oil when I was a kid working in a barber/tobacconist. I never liked it then, it was too potent and real for me. I was only interested in Aramis, Ralph Lauren Polo and Safari at the time. Having the EO in adult life has opened my eyes to how patchouli was. I can’t think of a fragrance that smells like the real deal in modern times.

The rose mentioned in the notes is not the star of the show, hardly even a bit player. Every now and then it pokes its fruity rosiness out and is then subsumed. I’m getting a smell that seems like angelica, a wispy sharp green, bittersweet and full of the end of summer ripeness.

Eau de Minthé is nice, not usual and if I’m being honest i think I’d prefer it as a room spray. Maybe even a linen spray. I could easily imagine getting into a bed smelling like this and drifting off into sleep. So much so that it’s going to be my bedtime scent tonight.

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Are you a fan of mint in fine fragrance? Is there one you love?

Portia xx

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A Visit to Grasse – Photo Essay

 

At the end of last month I flew out to Nice on the Cote d’Azur to join an exceptional friend of mine who was spending part of her vacation there. The weather was perfect, around the mid-twenties.

We rented a car to go to Grasse for the day, which was only about 45 minutes from Nice. We both expected it to be a small, rather quaint town but it is much more built up than that and the main street was quite grand. Grasse is considered the world’s capital of perfume and produces over two-thirds of France’s natural aromas (for perfume and food flavourings). There are about 30 local perfume producers.

The main street in Grasse.

We visited Molinard on the outskirts of Grasse which houses the old factory/museum, laboratory and shop. All the operating factories had to be moved to an industrial estate outside the town.

Molinard opened the very first factory in Grasse in 1849 and had 300 employees which was a huge number for the time. The company has stayed in the family for five generations and the current owner is the first woman during that time.

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Molinard House

It ddin’t seem like you needed to pre-book the free tour which seemed pretty informal (Galimard and Fragonard also do factory tours). That Sunday there were maybe ten of us including Canadians and Italians. Our tour guide, Paula, was a lovely lady though we raised our eyebrows at a couple of points. She told us that Molinard perfumes are made from all natural ingredients and that rose centifolia with its lemon and honey facets, only grows in Grasse.

The flowers for the perfumes can be obtained in Grasse but other ingredients come from across the globe.

The equipment used to be made out of copper but is now made of steel.

 

On weekdays two women make 600 soaps here by hand per day.

We tried their best selling Creme 24: a balm for face and body with a strong lemon scent which is intensely moisturising. Apparently they have tried to discontinue it a few times but its fans won’t let them.

Their most famous perfume Habanita (launched in 1921) happily still smells great and the only vetiver-heavy fragrance I really like.

While the production is now off-site, the lab where the perfumer composes fragrances is still at Molinard House.

A peek inside the modern perfume lab.

Some women in our group were greatly surprised to find out you shouldn’t keep bottles in your bathroom because of the three enemies of perfume: heat, light and humidity.

She went through the various concentrations.

You can take part in a perfume workshop here (prices from 189 euro) after which you come away with a bottle of your own custom fragrance. They can then send you re-fills anywhere in the world.

Of course the tour ended in the shop.

My friend bought a tube of the Crème 24 for her mother.

We nearly bought travel sprays of the original Habanita but managed to resist. It’s the kind of perfume I admire but never reach for.

We both bought a couple of the soaps.

From there we drove into the centre of Grasse to visit the International Museum of Perfumery which opened in 1989.

The International Museum of Perfumery

Floor plan

There were some interactive exhibits as well those in cases.

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It seemed to be a very old building that had been renovated.

The ‘greenhouse’ had perfume plants such as vetiver and patchouli.

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The outdoor garden had jasmine, geranium, labdanum, herbs and more.

Marie Antoinette’s modest travel case (one of two in existence).

My favourite bottle and perfume, Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit

Scented products including My Little Pony.

Finally, there was an extensive temporary exhibit about eau de cologne.

 

The museum’s gift shop was a treat. I picked up several gorgeous postcards and a Grasse tote bag, while my friend bought a pretty silk scarf.

It was a wonderful day and ticked another destination off my bucket list.

Have you been to Grasse? If not, would you like to go? Let me know in the comments and what you thought of the factory tour and perfume museum.

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Recipes from the Cookie Kitchen. Classic Fudgy Brownies.

I have had this need to feed people since quite a young age.  I could analyze this, go to a therapist, or do yoga.  But I decided just to accept it and make money out of it instead. We have had a year now  of Strange Tales from the Cookie Kitchen and there are more to come. But today I want to share some of the recipes that contributed to me to becoming the Cookie Queen.

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Brownies are of course named for their colour, and they have been around since the late 1890s.  They are really an American speciality.  And as much as we like to complain about a lot of American foods, their home baked goods are fantastic.  I have after all had a business based around them for more than twenty years.   Brownies are divided into two basic categories; cake-like and fudge-like.  You can skip the cake-like, there is only one kind of brownie, and that is a fudgy one.

This recipe is exactly the one that I use for my customers.  If you do what it says you will have perfect brownies.  (It may surprise you the number of people who tell me that their stuff does not turn out like mine.  And when I question them closer it is always because they did not follow the bloody instructions. “Oh I did not have an 8″square pan, so I used a casserole dish instead.”  FFS.

INGREDIENTS.    

100 grammes of unsweetened chocolate MELTED.  (You only need about 90 but have to allow for tasting or something remaining in the bowl, so use 100 to start.). Use the absolute best quality as this is not Rumplelstiltskin, crap chocolate does not turn into gold.)

4 ounces of softened butter (112g).

1 cup of brown sugar (the soft moist kind). If you cannot get it use white, it is not as good.

1tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs at room temperature

2/3 cup of flour (about 85g)

Good pinch of salt (added to the flour)

170 grammes of chopped chocolate.  (I use about 2/3 milk and 1/3 white but whatever … )

Line your 8 inch square brownie pan with greaseproof paper/baking parchment/backpapier – whatever you call it.

METHOD – read this through several times before starting!

Preheat the oven to 350°f or 170°c.

Get everything ready and in front of you.  Always.  it is the only way to work and to avoid making mistakes.

Now then, I melt my chocolate, which I have cut into very small pieces, in a microwave. Yes, I know you are not supposed to.  Melt it slowly and on a LOW wattage.  Open the door every 20 seconds and give it a stir until it is all beautifully liquid.  Make sure the bowl you use is totally clean and dry before putting the chocolate into it and melting it.

Beat the butter and the sugar together with an electric hand mixer, or Kitchen Aid, or with a wooden spoon if you have nothing else.  Add the warmish melted chocolate to it. (Not boiling hot of course, otherwise it will melt the lot!) Add the vanilla.  Beat it all together, but no need to beat it to death.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one.  Add the flour and salt.  You can fold it in with a spatula, or slowly blend with the machine.  And then add and fold in your chopped chocolate chunks.  Turn the batter into your lined pan, and level the surface.

Put into your PREHEATED oven.  Mine take about 28 minutes to bake but this time could vary with different ovens,  I cook with a fan oven. I would say between 25 and 30 mins max.   You can see if they are done by the way the top will look kind of shiny and dry. Don’t be scared to open the oven and put a toothpick into the middle of them and see if it comes out with crumbs or dripping batter.  Gooey crumbs are ideal.

Take them out.  Let them cool.   I then take them out of the pan, and carefully take the paper off, reline the pan with waxed paper or whatever, and put the brownies back in.  I then keep them there until they have been eaten.  Unless I am selling them, obviously, Then they get packed.

And remember a brownie is not a cake.  Very rich.  Adjust size accordingly.  You know how to tell the difference when looking at recipes?  A fudgy brownie will always have more sugar in it than flour.

CQ

I forgot to take a picture of adding the chocolate chinks, but I think you can imagine it huh?

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Rose et Cuir by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Notes: Pepper, Geranium, Blackcurrant, Vetiver, Cedar and Leather

To get the best out of trying Rose et Cuir – the new Frederic Malle release – for the first time, I think it’s a good idea to manage a few expectations:

Firstly, this is not a rose perfume. Secondly, it is not a birch tar leather. Thirdly, it is a departure from Jean-Claude Ellena’s work at Hermes.

Now on to what it IS.

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Rose et Cuir is a dark and stealthily dramatic leather with a bitter heart. I have been struggling terribly with sweetness in perfumes recently so this is not an issue for me but I can see some people finding it a turn-off.

On spraying, I get the rosy greenness of geranium with tremendously smooth pepper. The dewy rose effect is made all the more beautiful because you are experiencing it through a tangle of thorny brambles. It represents the last rays of sunlight filtering through the trees before you’re drawn deeper into the forest.

When most people think of a leather fragrance they think of the rich, smoky aroma created by birch tar in perfumes like Chanel’s Cuir de Russie. Ellena has chosen instead to work with Isobutyl Quinoline; a powerful synthetic which was used to create classic leather perfumes like Piguet’s original Bandit and Cabochard by Gres but has fallen out of vogue for some time. It has a distinctive, grainy, quality with an odour profile that is more like leather being processed at the tannery than the thick, smokiness of raw birch tar. The fact that it doesn’t overwhelm in Rose et Cuir is surely down to the perfumer’s skill.

The base is a cool green vetiver with no hint of swampiness and incredible lasting power. I prefer vetiver as an accent rather than a main player but it fits the character of the fragrance perfectly. A cosy amber or bland woodiness would have been a cop-out and this perfume doesn’t do compromise.

Frederic Malle has said this marks the start of a new era for Ellena and Rose et Cuir is a very modern take on a statement perfume. Even with all that moodiness, it never feels in the least bit heavy, floating airily just out of reach. There is no extraneous ornamentation (which is very Ellena).

Although it looks like it’s being marketed as a rugged, outdoorsy fragrance I feel it’s much more sophisticated and cerebral than that. It sets up an eerie tension between the potently poisonous and the painfully vulnerable.

Most of all Rose et Cuir is an intensely interesting perfume. Val the Cookie Queen and I have never talked so much about a new release (see her post here). We think it will be divisive but that’s no bad thing in my book. At least it’s creating a reaction in people. A fragrance of this quality that is so against the tide might not have existed without the full artistic freedom that Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle affords perfumers.

Do you like the sound of a sheer yet striking perfume or does the thought of a sharp green floral leather put you off?

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