Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rose Volupte by Sonoma Scent Studio

I’m a recent convert to the cult of perfume. I’ve always really enjoyed perfume, though because of my mom’s allergies, we didn’t really have it in the house. I had drugstore ‘fumes that I wore as a teenager—Anais Anais, Sand and Sable, Vanderbilt, Vanilla Fields-- and I got a little more sophisticated in college, falling in love with Calvin Klein’s Escape and Giorgio Beverly Hills’ Ocean Dream.

But last February, just into my 39th year, I started a quest to find a grown up every day scent and ended up tumbling head over heels in love with perfume. It’s amazing stuff, really. It always fits. It smells slightly different on each person. Scent is closely tied to memory, so a whiff of Obsession drags me right back to the ‘80s and I just know that someone in my life when I was a child wore Arpege.

I’ve developed a real love of sampling and thanks to a thriving online perfume community, have discovered some really great small perfumers. One of my favorites is Laurie Erickson of Sonoma Scent Studio in Healdsberg—so local! Laurie was nice enough to send me a sample of her most recent release, Rose Volupte, even though it hadn’t even been filtered yet! So I wanted to post my impressions of this beautiful scent for internet to see. Rose Volupte will be available for purchase on the SSS website very soon, hopefully this weekend.

The website lists the notes as rose, plum, amber, labdanum absolute, sandalwood, cedar, vetiver, heliotrope, clove, cinnamon, oakmoss, subtle aldehydes. The parfum is well blended, enough so that my fairly uneducated nose can’t really pick out too many individual notes. The first 20 minutes or so are a big, fruity rose. Then the spice kicks in a bit—still really, really rosy, but with warmth infusing it. There’s a touch of dryness that I’ve come to associate with cedar, not really a smell so much as a texture. I’m about four hours in and it has dried down to a beeswaxy, ambery rose that’s stays really close to my skin.

I have really dry skin that pretty much sucks in perfume like a milkshake. I have yet to find even a parfum strength scent (which all of Laurie’s are) that has much sillage on me after about two hours, if I’m dabbing it on. Spraying usually lasts a bit longer and has more oomph. Rose Volupte is no exception to that. But I wear perfume for me and sometimes, for the people who I’m intimate enough with to hug, so that doesn’t really bother me, especially when the scent is as gorgeous as this one.

Rose Volupte is appropriately named. Everything about it what J and I call ‘bosom-y” when we’re talking about wine—round, soft, smooth, and full. It is intensely feminine and a little vintage feeling. It is the perfect perfume to go with a wine red velvet cocktail dress and Bordeaux colored lipstick. It’s classy and sexy and a little formal in a way that appeals to me like all the flirty “young” fragrances available right now don’t. It is black stockings with seams, heels, and set hair.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Turkish Trousers!

I'm putting together a sooper sekrit steampunk outfit for the Dickens Fair. Why is sooper sekrit? Because I'm vaguely embarrassed to be succumbing to the steampunk bandwagon. But I spend so much time and energy trying to improve the historicalness of the costuming at the renaissance faire where I'm the Costume Mistress that I'm just tired. Pretty much everything I do is historical. I don't really do fantasy. I just don't. But I don't work at the Dickens Faire, and while it can be fun to out-historical their costuming, I really just wanted to do something silly.

So steampunk it is. But really only kind of. Because I refuse to move away from my belief that costuming for these theatrical events should be character driven, even if I'm not working and even if the character is completely absurd. So this character comes out of colonialism, the burgeoning field of archeology, and the Victorian fascination with spiritualism. She's a medium and a treasure hunter--thoroughly English, very very silly, but remarkably matter of fact, obsessed with the latest technology. She'll have the nods to steampunk convention--leather corset, tiny top hat, etc. but she doesn't really fit into the normal steampunk character categories. Oh, and she wears Turkish trousers. Because they are awesome.

More to come.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Christmas Eve Mac and Cheese

I’m doing a blogging challenge—one post a week until Christmas. Maybe it’ll help me get in the posting habit so I don’t go 18 months between posts! Ha!

So I’m starting off easy with a food post. This is Christmas Eve Mac and Cheese, so called because it is a creamy baked mac and cheese based on traditional Welsh rarebit, perfect for Christmas Eve dinner with cider and ghost stories.


4 Tbsp unsalted butter, plus 2 Tbsp

1/2 medium yellow onion, minced (NOT sweet)

1/4 cup all purpose flour

2 cups milk heated (I used 1%, microwaved for 3 minutes)

3/4 cups dark English style beer (I used Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale; porter or stout would work well too)

2 tsp mustard powder (prepared yellow mustard will work too, but I like Colman’s mustard powder because it’s traditional in Welsh rarebit)

3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

8 oz. pasta (I like the curly kinds!)

3 slices of bread, crusts removed, cubed (I used cracked wheat sourdough. For a more traditional rarebit, a nice hearty rye would be awesome!)

Let’s Cook!

1. Preheat oven to 375 and put water on to boil for pasta

2. Melt 4 Tbsp of butter over medium heat in a large saucepan until foamy

3. Add minced onions to melted butter and cook over medium heat until translucent

4. Stir in flour with a whisk, stirring to keep it from getting lumpy. Cook roux for a few minutes, but don’t let it get brown

5. Add hot milk a little at a time, whisking continuously to make a smooth bechamel sauce

6. Add beer to the bechamel, whisking. It will look gross, like it’s curdling, but it’s not—just keep whisking! Then whisk in your mustard powder.

7. Cook sauce, whisking continuously, until it starts to thicken, about 5 minutes or so. Remove from heat.

8. Cook pasta according to package when your water is boiling. I undercook mine just a little to keep it firm after baking in the sauce

9. Melt 2 Tbsp of butter and toss it with your bread cubes

10. After letting your bechamel cool a few minutes to prevent graininess, add your cheese a little at a time, whisking until it’s melted each time. The sauce will get really thick.

11. Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray. This recipe fit perfectly in my 1.8 L casserole dish

12. Pour cooked pasta into casserole dish and pour bechamel over it. Fold together a couple of times to make sure all the pasta is covered in sauce.

13. Spread buttery bread cubes over the top, and bake for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbly.

14. Let sit for about 5 minutes, then try not to eat the whole thing in one sitting. It will be hard!

This makes 6 good sized servings. Serve it with a green salad with vinaigrette!

Happy Christmas!


Friday, July 22, 2011

Night Blooming Peony:Shaheen-inspired Tiki glamour


So I should be working on my 16th century linen jacket for the Nor Cal Ren Faire. Am I? Of course not!

Next weekend is Costume College (hurray!) and the theme for the Gala this year is Creatures of Night. Suggestions were things like an Elizabethan bat, a late Victorian owl, that kind of thing. Do I already have anything that I could wear, since I really didn't want to make anything for CoCo this year? Well, sort of. I have a black 1920s dress that I probably could have done something with. But, eh...

But then I fell in love with Alfred Shaheen, or more precisely, with his Hawaiian sundresses from the 1950s. I luuuuuuuuuuuurrrves them! And I had to have one. And thus began my agony. You can find them on ebay and etsy, but they cost an arm and a leg and are almost universally made for very small women. I am not a very small woman.

Whirling Turban makes recreations of some of Shaheen's most popular styles and they'll make them in my size, but there we are back to the arm and leg factor. Sigh.

On ebay I found this gown being sold by Bombshell Betty.

If I was still the size I was in high school and had a spare $350 laying around, I would have been on this like ants on something sweet and sticky. The drape, the color, the circle skirt. Oh.My.God.

So, I'm making one. Of course I am. Because what else would I do? I'm working on a pattern to do the style like this

with the built in bullet bra, but that's going to take too long to perfect for this event.

So I'm using Vogue 1176. Easy to scale up and modify to include the shirred side panel, easy to fit, easy to change the skirt out for a circle. Hurray!

Here is the fabric I have to make it--a gorgeous cotton from the Alfred Shaheen line. Hard to tell, but it's accented with gold. Very glamorous! The fuschia is cotton sateen for the lining.

I'm gonna bone the hell out of the bodice (heh), add fun straps like on my inspiration dress, and TA DA! Night-blooming Peony! All in less than a week.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Some Thoughts on Historical Costuming: Renaissance Faire Edition

I think there is a tendency among those of us who care deeply about improving the historical accuracy of Renaissance faire costuming to be frustrated with the slow pace at which we are able to encourage the change we wish to see. What do we do at established events with established communities, where historicalness within the theatrical framework is not discouraged, but where the minimum standard is more theatrical than historical, or where there simply are not standards at all?

I think it is important to remember that it has taken us 50 years to reach where we are. I was looking at pictures from the very first Renaissance faire started by the Pattersons. If you've never seen them, or if you haven't looked at them for a while, go check them out. The costuming is about what I expect from patrons of our current faires. In the 50 years since that first faire, some faires have gotten better, some have gotten worse, some look about the same. My point is this: it has taken us 50 years to get here.

To terribly misuse the words of two brilliant individuals, Mahatma Ghandi and Max Weber, I think the best way to improve the historicalness of faire costuming is to be the change we want to see, and to realize that, like politics, it will be the slow boring of hard boards and that if we seek to do it we must risk our own souls. Faire fashion, like all fashion, follows trends. When actors are replacing their costumes, of course they'll make or buy what they admire on their friends. Not everyone is going to be as committed to research as we are, as much as we may wish it were so. But if we look good, then at least some of those people will be imitating us, and when they express interest in what we're wearing, we can share our research with them. I wouldn't mind seeing a faire populated entirely by cast members who imitated someone else and did no research of their own as long as that someone else had done the research.

Another brilliant, if slightly less well known person, Elizabeth Stewart Clark of the Civil War reenacting community, describes her view on historical accuracy in reenactment as "progressive". She says, "A person with a progressive mindset endeavors to recreate, as closely as possible, the lives and circumstances of the past. This applies to material culture, as well as to internal knowledge, and it’s a process, not an 'arrival.'"

You'll never get everyone on board, and you'll certainly lose scores of people if you try to force it all at once at an established event. But you can help make historical accuracy (or at least improvement) less threatening and more appealing. Check out her piece The Missionary Position: Proselytizing for Progressives or a Brief Guide to Polite Progression. It's aimed at mid-19th century impressions, but the lessons are applicable to any time period.

The slow boring of hard boards. Hey, I'm willing to risk my soul. How 'bout you?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

CSA Meal #2--California Summer Moussaka

So we've doing random little things with the veggies from our first CSA delivery (we're getting one every other week to start with. There's only 2 of us, after all!)--grilling up the carrots (so good-you should try it!), we sauteed some of the zucchini with garlic, shrimp, and white wine and ate it over couscous--that kind of thing.

One of the things we got was a lovely big globe eggplant. I love eggplant, but I've never cooked it. Hurray for experiments and new food! J isn't wild about eggplant normally, but seems to like it ok when it's in stuff rather than just on it's own. I mulled over what to do with it for a while and then I thought: Moussaka!

For those who don't know, moussaka is a greek casserole similar to lasagne that uses eggplant instead of noodles. Traditionally it is made by frying the eggplant slices and layering them with a rich tomato sauce with ground lamb. It's then covered in a cheesy bechamel sauce. It is yummy, but really rich and heavy. Very much a fall comfort food kind of dish.

So I came up with this lighter, vegetarian version that makes use of all the wonderful summer produce we have available in Northern California right now. I substitute tons of veggies for the meat and grill the eggplant instead of frying it for less oil and a nice charred flavor. I made my trip to the farmers market to supplement my CSA stash and cooked it up. It takes a longish time (about 45 minutes to prep with one person) and multiple steps, but if you've got a lazy day and you feel like cooking, give it a try. You should eat this in a bowl with a spoon, 'cause it'll be a little bit soupy.

Here it is done! This makes approximately 12 servings. Unless you're like me and you want to eat it all because it's just that darned good!

California Summer Moussaka


1 large globe eggplant
3 medium-ish carrots, chopped in 1/4 inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic minced
1 lb assorted summer squash (I used green and yellow zucchini and pattypans), chopped
3 large juicy tomatoes chopped (I used random big dark pink heirlooms. No idea what kind they were, but they were juicy and sweet!)
1/2 tsp ground clove
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1 tbsp fresh oregano
1 tbsp fresh majoram
kosher or sea salt to taste
Bechamel sauce (recipe follows)
breadcrumbs (optional)

1. Prepare the eggplant: cut the top and bottom off the eggplant to make it stable. Peel it and slice it into 1/4 inch thick slices. Place the slices on a platter covered in paper towel and sprinkle them with salt. Let them sit for 30 minutes or so to sweat some of the bitterness out of them.

2. While the slices are draining, preheat your gill or grill pan on medium high. Rinse the eggplant slices and pat them dry. Brush one side of the slices with olive oil and place them oil side down on the grill. Grill for 3 minutes.

3. Just before flipping, brush the other side with olive oil. Flip the eggplant and grill for an additional 3 minutes. Remove and set aside.

4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Over medium high heat, heat a little olive oil in a large pan until shimmering. Add the carrots to the pan and stir to coat. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the carrots begin to caramelize. You want the veggies to develop a little color, since the caramelization will add to the depth of flavor.

5. When the carrots have started to get some color, add the onions and again, cook for a few minutes, stirring occassionally until they also begin to get some color and get soft.

6. Add your squash and garlic and stir, repeating the step above. Add two or three pinches of sea or kosher salt.

7. Add the tomatoes and their juice. Stir and add the dried herbs and the spices. You can add more to taste, but since this is a lighter moussaka, I went a little easy on the traditional clove and cinnamon. Cook this for a few minutes until the juices are nice and bubbly and it looks like big yummy mess. You don't want to cook it too long--this is a fresh sauce and you want the veggies to be identifiable, not broken down and mushy.

How gorgeous is this?

8. Spread a little sauce in the bottom of a dish. I used my French oven, but a lasagne pan or other baking dish will work well too. Then place a layer of eggplant slices. Continue to layer sauce and eggplant slices, ending with a layer of sauce.

9. Cover with bechamel sauce (see below) and sprinkle breadcrumbs on top if desired. Put the moussaka in the oven and bake for 45 minutes uncovered.

10. Eat and enjoy!

Pecorino Romano Bechamel Sauce

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk heated
4 oz shredded pecorino romano cheese

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat

2. When melted and bubbly, whisk in the flour

3. Cook on medium for two minutes

4. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, making sure to keep the sauce smooth

5. Cook for about 5 minutes until the sauce starts to thicken. If it gets too thick, you can whisk in a little more milk

6. Remove from heat and whisk in the shredded cheese. Continue stirring until the cheese is melted and totally incorporated into the sauce.

Monday, August 2, 2010

CSA Meal #1-Ricotta Stuffed Peppers

So we started getting deliveries from a fabulous farm up in Yolo County. I have a great affection for Yolo, having spent 7 years in Davis. The folks who run the farm are second generation farmers and second generation UC Davis grads, so yay!

I can tell already that something this Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) thing is going to do is get us thinking more creatively about our food. As part of the first box, we got an enormous bag of smallish yellow peppers, not bells, more like the tapered Italian kind. Also, a bunch of purple basil and a huge-ish musk mellon. Among other things, but this is what I'm dealing with currently.

So what to do with these little guys? The answer was Grilled Peppers with Herbed Ricotta.

For fresh ricotta, I used Michael Chiarello's recipe which is basically this: 1 gallon of whole milk, 1 quart of buttermilk, mix and cook over medium high heat, stirring and scraping the bottom so it doesn't burn, until the curds separate from the whey. Then remove it from heat, ladle the curds into a cheesecloth lined strainer to drain, and let it sit there for like 20 minutes. This makes about 4 cups of cheese.

Here is what it looks like draining.

And here's what it looks like done. Kind of like really small curd cottage cheese.

So I took the peppers, cut off the tops and pulled out the seeds, and rubbed them with olive oil. Here they are being prepared to grill.

Then I grilled them over medium high heat until they were a little blistery and soft, but still held their shape.

I mixed minced garlic, fresh chopped basil, kosher salt and dried Italian herbs into the ricotta until it looked nice and herby. This is really up to you. I used 1 tsp each of minced garlic, fresh basil, and dried herbs for 1 cup of ricotta, and about 3 biggish pinches of kosher salt. Taste as you go. Here is the herby cheese.

When the peppers were done and still hot, I spooned the cheese mixture into them. That's it. Here they are. YUM.

I served them with half the musk mellon cut into slices and wrapped in prosciutto. It was delicious and super easy. The hardest part was making the cheese, and that wasn't really hard, it just took a little while (about 30 minutes to cook). Ta da!