Monthly Archives: September 2019

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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Absinthe Boreale by Maison Crivelli

Hi A Bottled Rose Peeps!

The boards are full of a new brand nowadays, Maison Crivelli. In a recent First In Fragrance order they sent me a couple of samples to try as a GWP. Woo Hoo! Even the names of these fragrances are interesting enough to grab my attention. Just a few of them include Santal Volcanique, Bois Datchai, Rose Saltifolia and the one we’ll be talking about today, Absinthe Boreale.

Absinthe Boreale by Maison Crivelli 2019

Nathalie Feisthauer

Parfumo gives these featured accords:
Absinth, Lemon, Plant juice, Fern, Lavender

OOOOOH! The opening is tart lemon, celery and broken willow twigs. It’s delightfully sharp and herbaceous. Unlike anything I’ve sniffed before. It has a strange warmth that I can’t place at all but it feels very familiar. One of those ubiquitous base notes that is both smooth woodsiness and furry fibreglass roof insulation. Strange but compelling mix, much like absinthe I suppose.

Not long in and lavender makes itself known. A sheer veil of lavender that damps down all other notes without erasing them. It’s like smelling through a lavender curtain. It remains the focus, yet not a big statement, right through the heart. As if it accidentally found itself in centre stage, with no fanfare of desire to shine, yet by its perfect placement and poise it leaves all other players looking wan and lifeless.

 

 

The name intrigues me. Absinthe is the drink that causes hallucinations and melancholy. Boreale might be referring to the Aurora Borealis, that chiaroscuro of gases that lights the northern skies. It certainly fits with this fragrance and its changing story from green to lavender and further into the dry down gold seeming warmth mixes in. It could be sweet vanilla and woods but there’s nothing in the note list to point it out.

 

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Every change within the fragrance life feels seamless and once you get there, inevitable. As if this fragrance was pre-ordained to be made, that there was already a space for it in our consciousness. Here it is.

Have you got your sniff on any of the Maison Crivelli fragrances yet? Does Absinthe Boréale sound like you could wear it?

Portia xxx

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Reading Diary – August 2019

I didn’t quite reach my Goodreads reading challenge to get through 30 books last year. This was largely because I didn’t read at all during the month of my trip to Australia. This year I set it at 25 so I wouldn’t become idiotically feel under pressure in the run-up to 31st December. Guess what? I reached 25 books in August.

I felt pretty anxious all month and my reading choices reflect this: humorous, adventurous romps to take my mind off things, self-help books to try and find solutions, and a couple of novels that I hoped would calming my nerves.

 

Hope for the Best (Chronicles of St Mary’s Book 10) by Jodi Taylor

‘Let us all think carefully. Who here has the least value? Who has annoyed me the most?’ He turned to face me. ‘Who is in need of a much-deserved lesson?’
‘No idea,’ I said.
‘Oh, I think you do.’
‘Well, yes, I do, but I thought it would be rude to point out it’s you. Not in front of your men. Although it would be good to stop you talking before everyone dies of boredom.’

 

hope for the best

This, the 10th book in the series, came out in April but I’ve been saving it. So when I didn’t know what I wanted to read next and felt a bit low, it was there waiting for me. St. Mary’s is my literary happy place however much of this book is spent with the Time Police who are soon to have their own spin-off series. In any case, the action is still led by our indomitable hero Max and as per usual, misfortune abounds as she travels back to the Cretaceous period to try and finish her nemesis once and for all. But first she must fix an anomaly in the Time Map and make sure Mary Tudor fulfils her destiny in the 16th century.  (I have already pre-ordered Book 11 which will be released in April next year.)  5/5

 

Happy: Why Just About Everything Is Absolutely Fine by Derren Brown

“We do not have the control over events that we like to imagine would allow us to succeed through self-belief. In truth, we aim in one direction, events pull us in the other, and the line of our life is drawn along the middle.”

 

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I’ve long been a fan of illusionist Derren Brown. I’ve watched the TV shows and seen his stage show a couple of times. It was always clear that he was an extremely clever guy but now he’s written a self-help book based on Stoic philosophy: a must-read for me then. People in the field of personal development are always talking about goal-setting but this has long been a source of anxiety for me. It was incredibly reassuring and a huge relief to have Derren acknowledge this in the first fifth of the book. Latter sections show you how you can apply Stoic philosophy to everyday life.  I lost interest during a couple of chapters covering anger and fame but those covering death were as well thought-out as they were thought-provoking.  4/5

 

 

The Summer Book by Tove Jannsen

“Smell is important. It reminds a person of all the things he’s been through; it is a sheath of memories and security.”

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Unfortunately, I read this book for adults by the author of the Moomntroll series at the wrong time. It needs patience and a calm mind so you can settle into its gentle pace. With my anxiety in full swing it was a bad fit.  It’s not a novel where you can get lost in the narrative (which I needed) but a series of vignettes mainly set in the summer but not necessarily in the same year.  They revolve around a grandmother and her granddaughter Sophia who spend their summers on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland. The father is there too but he’s a shadowy figure in the background. I enjoyed some of the stories a lot but grew distracted with those where very little happens. Sophia is precocious and volatile and the fact that her mother has died coloured everything for me. Her interactions with her grandmother are often humorous and charming but sometimes felt a little surreal.  I did have to laugh when she stuck a note under the door saying something like ‘I hate you, With warmest personal wishes, Sophia’. The passages about the island’s flora, landscape and weather were beautiful and I found the atmosphere unique. It’s clearly a special book, I just wasn’t in the right mindset to fully appreciate it. 3/5

 

 

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

“My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.”

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I struggled with this book a little at first because I found Bernadette hard to like. She is somtimes ignorant, always judgemental and usually ranting about everything from Seattle’s road system to Canadians and homeless people. That made it hard to care that she went missing but as the story evolves we find out more about Bernadette’s past and that made it easier to empathise. Her main redeeming features however, is her relationship with her bright and engaging teenage daughter, Bee. Events unfold via various letters, emails and documents as Bee tries to piece together what happened in the run up to her disappearance. This format was highly enjoyable and worked really well. It’s touted as a satire of Microsoft (where Bee’s hapless father works) and private school parents, and while it’s often very funny, it also has heart. It was pretty outlandish but a great distraction. 4/5 (Now a film starring Cate Blanchett)

 

 

Anxiety Rebalance by Carl Vernon

It’s a terrible admission but in my weaker moments I envy people who have high anxiety and don’t have a clue about what they should be doing in order to manage it. Those people, like the many testimonials in the latest edition of Anxiety Rebalance, can read a book like this and totally transform their lives in 3 months as it suggests. They can implement the ’10 actions’ to create a healthy lifestyle with a supportive daily routine and experience a dramatic turnaround. It’s as if they have been reborn and their past life is like a bad dream. This book is perfect for those people. However, if you’ve long been aware you suffer from anxiety and gradually worked out how to function with it on a daily basis, reading this book isn’t going to make a difference. One day I’ll realise no one has all the answers.  2/5

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Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

All experience adds up to a life lived as only you could. I feel sure the day will come when you can say: this is my life.

In my very limited experience, I’ve found contemporary Japanese fiction can be very soothing. I was picking up and putting down book after book until I started this and read over a quarter in one sitting. There’s a spaciousness about the writing style that calms me.  The plots may seem simplistic but there is usually an existential theme just beneath the surface. They also tend to include pleasing descriptions of Japanese food. Sweet Bean Paste is set in a confectionery shop in Tokyo that sells dorayaki (sweet pancakes). Sentaro wants to be a writer but is running the shop to pay off a debt her owes the owner. He has no passion for the job and buys in the sweet bean paste. Then he agrees to let an elderly woman, Tokue, work in the kitchen making her exceptional sweet bean paste, despite his reservations over her deformed fingers. A friendship slowly develops which is put to the test when Tokue’s secret is revealed. It’s a touching quietly gorgeous book. 5/5

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How was your August, reading or otherwise?

 

 

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Douleur by Bogue Profumo x Freddie Albrighton

Notes: Mint, Flesh, Rose, Candyfloss, Seaweed and Benzoin

I know tattoo artist and fragrance aficionado Freddie Albrighton through various meet-ups over the years and his (sadly defunct) perfume blog. I think it’s true to say that he has been drawn to maverick artisan perfumers and that they in turn, have been drawn to him. I imagine they share a similar sensibility. He did the marketing artwork for Vero Kern’s masterwork Rozy and now he has collaborated on a perfume with Antonio Gardoni of Bogue Profumo. How cool is that?

No doubt the project worked in part because they both have a love of novel aromas that not everyone would expect to find in a perfume. I mean, just look at that note list. It made me smile and reminded me of when my then 5 year-old niece said her pretend perfume was made of ‘Lavender, raspberries, rainbows, strawberries and peppermint’. Douleur isn’t child’s play, though it encompasses a similar level of blue-sky thinking.

 

I’ve seen the opening described a few times as ‘piercing’ and on spraying that is exactly the word. It’s a penetrating combination of everything that is to come but at the highest possible pitch and all at once. It’s as if the contents of the sample which seemed to be pulsating in my bag had been squirming to be set free and once the sprayer is depressed, every note hurtles for freedom.

Once it settles after a couple of minutes, the core of Douleur is revealed as rose oxide which is a material both Freddie and Antonio are fond of. You usually hear it referred to as a metallic rose but while I get that almost camphoric steeliness, my nose reads it more as a rose surrounded by bitter greens. This red bloom wrapped in vines is counterbalanced by wisps of candyfloss and a hint of dried seaweed saltiness.,
Over tume it softens and rounds out considerably as the comforting presence of benzoin in the base comes throigh. The various contrasts knit together and it smells like a ‘proper’, if uncommon, perfume with a mix of hot/cold, hard/soft and bitter/sweet facets.

It does indeed stick to the skin like a tattoo and billows out in waves, ensuring a devastating scent trail.

Antoni says “experiencing odours should be challenging and playful” and that’s exactly what trying Douleur is like. It takes me back to the time when I first got into perfume and inhaling something new was always exciting and interesting, even if it wasn’t to my usual taste.

We can get trapped in our comfort zones. Douleur has come to shake things up.

 

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Do you find yourself only sampling perfumes that are in line with what you know you already like? Would you give Douleur a try?

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Los Angeles by Gallivant

“Drive fast, I can almost taste it now
LA, I don’t even have to fake it now”

– ‘American’ by Lana Del Rey

Notes: Eucalyptus, Clary Sage, Mandarin and Pineapple, Narcissus, Tuberose, Cade, Guaiac, Nagarmotha, Musks and Heliotrope.

I haven’t been to Los Angeles since my 21st birthday but I know it’s more of a collection of discrete neighbourhoods than somewhere with a distinct focal point. Despite this, we all have a strong idea of the place.  The recent launch from British indie brand Gallivant, mirrors the differing aspects that meld together to create an overall impression which is that of a ‘neon floral’.

Los Angeles is Gallivant’s eighth release. You can read my mini reviews of London, Tel Aviv, Istanbul and Brooklyn here.

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The fruit cocktail and herbal top notes bring to mind louche parties in the Hollywood Hills amidst eucalyptus trees and aromatic plants.  I remember Katie Puckrik saying that the scent of LA was something like a mash-up of air-conditioning and sweet white flowers. That’s not dissimilar to the heart of Los Angeles: lush tuberose with a bubblegum quality freshened by an ocean breeze and the suggestion of salty skin.

When the sun sets we head to Sunset Strip with the scent of burning rubber on asphalt from those loud, flashy cars out looking for attention. Leather and smoky woods fill the air as Hollywood’s underbelly is revealed.  It’s an unexpected base considering the lurid top half of the fragrance, although you get hints of it from the start – a slight seediness  that is always lurking just beneath the surface, even in broad daylight.

It made sense when I found out the perfumer for Los Angeles, Karine Chevallier. also did Gallivant’s London which was shortlisted for an Art and Olfaction Award. It has the same eclectic mix that manages to intrigue rather than jar. An amped up fruity floral with a smoky, tarry base sounds unlikely on paper but it works and works well.

The Eau de Parfum has very good lasting power and low to moderate throw.

Los Angeles is a fun ride. It’s up for a good time but a sense of melancholy creeps in towards the end of night once the party’s over. It’s like one of those cinematic songs by Lana del Rey; sultry, hypnotic and just the right amount of trashy.

 

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Do you have a favourite ‘destination perfume’? Let me know in the comments.

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