5-Sensual Life-Hacks for Your Work-At-Home Commute

The Home CommuteMy family once lived 15 minutes away from my husband’s work but moved households to be 10 minutes closer. We just don’t believe in commuting unless we have to. But how do you make the mind/body transition from your home life to your work life if you work from home?

You use Jedi Mind/Body tricks to trigger your work day, that’s how.

1. Cue the Music

I find that starting a work day with a Pump-Me-Up song is just the ticket to get me in the zone. I could wax forever on why listening to ESPN Presents: Jock Jams is perfectly reasonable way to start the day, but really, anything that empowers or sets the mood you need is the right kind of transitional music. By that same token, ending the day with a transition song can cue your mind and body that it’s time to transition to all of the stuff you left behind in the morning — even if your laundry was really just in the next room.

Here’s my favorite Pump Me Up song:

And a good day-ender for a late-afternoon swan song.

2. Cue the Nose

Any number of smelly things can be used to launch your work day, especially any of the essential oils known to be particularly energizing, like Peppermint. Check out Aromaweb’s list of energizing essential oils and blends to explore, OR, simply walk outside to the garden, where the mint is growing like a monster and stuff your face into it for a minute. An olfactory work cue might be just the ticket. And the more you use the same method, the more it becomes habit, the more smelling the thing gets you in the mood to forget the rest.

Mint13. Cue the cameras

I’m not a great fan of the visual — I spend so much time staring at the computer anyway, but if you don’t actually have a commute, and you don’t have the visual transition of having the world fly by you before you start work, consider taking a short walk. Do the same walk every day, just as you would probably take the same route to work. And if you can add in some smells, all the better.

Lavender14. Cue your body

If you would have showered for work at an office you really should be showering for work at home, too. Wash away the rest of yesterday! Or, barring that option, consider simply having a pair of “work shoes” that you wear while working at home. For one thing, feeling “dressed for work” makes you more able to create a barrier to your home life (even if it’s five feet away). Here’s a great blog post from Bridgette Raes about dressing for working at home. Lately I’ve been putting on these shoes to work at my desk. Seasonal? No. I should be wearing flip flops in this weather. But when you’re making business calls, you had best wear shoes!

Taos5. Cue your Tastebuds

Do you really need the caffeine or is it the bitter taste of coffee that you associate with Business Time? Okay, it might be the caffeine, but having a taste cue associated with your work is always a good thing. Especially if it is the taste you associate with getting busy at your desk. And since taste and smell are intimately associated with each other, its best to pick something with an aromatic component — i.e. no icky cheap coffee, but a single varietal, tastes like blueberries awesome single origin coffee. I get mine from Wire and Flag coffee in McMinnville.

ChrysalisI hope that helps you develop a new ritual, incorporating your senses, into your work-at-home commute! Because it’s hard to leave the rest of life behind when you just run to your desk, doesn’t it?

I would love to hear any of your ideas for how to transition from life to desk and back again! Follow me on Twitter @emilygrosvenor.

You’re Doing It All Wrong: 8 Signs You Need to Rethink Perfume

Indie perfumer Jessica Hannah working with a custom client in her perfume studio.

Indie perfumer Jessica Hannah working with a custom client in her perfume studio.

perfume-1I would never be so bold to tell anyone that they’re doing anything wrong — unless they say they don’t like perfume.

I’ve been there myself. I grew up where adults all had a signature scent and they drowned me in it — Anais Anais By Cacharel, Christian Dior Poison, Paco Rabanne – Pour Homme. Great scents unto themselves, sure, but a little in-your-face.

I can still smell us all — sitting up there in the top rows of the balcony with our minds wandering and the scents of the 1980s malingering up into the rafters.

But since I decided to come out as a super sniffer and embark on a scent journey a few years ago, I’ve discovered a few things that have completely changed how I feel about perfume. It’s never been a better time to rethink your thoughts about the world of scent.

8 Signs You Need to Rethink Perfume

1. You never even wear perfume.
If you have labeled yourself a perfume hater than you are missing out on an entire new world of scent that’s been fomenting in the past few decades. You might still be attached to where you were twenty years ago — slow dancing with some Justin Timberlake look-alike and inhaling the Drakkar Noir from every boy in the room. But you’re older now, and your sense of olfaction might actually be better. Now is the time to recalibrate.

2. You wear it for somebody other than yourself.
If you only think perfume is something you wear to attract somebody else, you are ignoring the obvious mood-enhancing benefits for yourself. I have found place-based scents to be a surprising and welcome balm for all kinds of maladies, like homesickness and seasonal affective disorder. If you miss summer, just smell some jasmine!

3. You have no idea what you like.
Perfume has a nomenclature and a culture to itself, so if you haven’t taken any time to learn about the basics, you probably haven’t even given yourself a chance to fall in love with something. Kafkaesque has a great guide on where to start if you’re new to scent.

4. You’re turned off by in-your-face scents.
The days are far gone when all perfumes sprayed on a wrist had to take over your life until your next bath. The new generation of perfumers are actually doing something old — using essential oils and natural ingredients that make them more subtle and more of an artistic product. Sure, they don’t last as long, but you can experience how scent changes on the skin. To me, its a more accurate way to experience how scent puts you in the moment.

5. You don’t have a favorite indie perfumer.
If you think perfume is all department stores and makeup counters, let me introduce you to the world of indie perfumers (post forthcoming). These are professed scent obsessives who have decided to work with oils and tinctures as an artistic pursuit and who are coming up with fragrances to rival the big houses in France. And because they are out there in the world telling the stories of their creations, you can be sure to have a more intimate connection with your perfume blender than when you just order something online. To start, try out some of my favorites, Jessica Hannah (pic above), Captain Blankenship and OLO.

6. You’ve never tried naturals.
If the idea of being bathed in a cloud of suffocating air is your idea of perfume, if you’re a natural person with natural inclinations, then you should be exploring the work of perfume artists who work exclusively with natural-based scents. That way, if your goal is to smell like the last favorite forest you walked through (and not some cheap approximation of it), the option is available to you with naturals. Naturals provide sensual luxury from far-off cultures, travel in a bottle. Here, my favorite is Mandy Aftel, America’s grand dame of natural perfuming.

7. You haven’t explored oils and solids.
Not all scent is delivered the same. If you have never responded to scent in an alcohol spray, there are ample other ways to deliver the experience. I’m a huge fan of scents in a jojoba oil, or a solid scent based in jojoba and beeswax that you can carry around in a gorgeous tin (see Mandy Aftel’s recent release Bergamoss).

8. You’ve let somebody else’s imagination sell you on what perfume is.
I don’t know about you, but I look at fragrance ads and see something other than myself. If ads are meant to be aspirational, then there is rarely anything in a perfume ad to inspire me. It’s all just women dolled up to look like girls.  To me, perfume is about stories the way scent is about memories. So when I want to try a perfume a seek out something that will inspire me by the story and the ingredients.

Carry on, Scent Seeker!

I hope this little post has given you some inspiration to go out in the world and seek out the work of individuals who are experimenting and whose products will blow your mind. As a bonus, there are so many options out there that you’ll never have to smell like anyone else ever again!

What’s your take on perfume? Please share your ideas with me — your preconceived notions, the barriers that keep you from jumping full-bodied into this particular pool.

7 Benefits of Daily Self Massage (and an essential oil blend to do it)

Massage

perfume-1If you have anxiety, there is no panacea for you. Everyone’s anxiety is their own, your own personal chatty Cathy sitting on top of you in a plane that’s going down.

But I feel compelled to share one of my tips for anxiety self-care: Self-massage.  It’s such a small but important addition to a self-care routine,  and one with enormous benefits for the body and soul.

I’ve been doing self massage for a few years now after reading Aveda Rituals : A Daily Guide to Natural Health and Beauty. Now, I can’t stop talking about it.

The benefits of self-massage are many:

7 Benefits of Self-Massage

1. Massage is said to reduce toxins in the skin
2. Lustrous skin from all of the oils
3. Deep relaxation from the massage; increased circulation to nerve endings
5. Deeper nighttime sleep (really)
6. Almost immediate relaxation response
7. Boosted immune system response

How to Do Self-Massage

If you’ve never done self-massage before, it would be helpful to watch this video, which walks you through an entire full-body massage. Note that the video is only about six minutes long. A good self-massage, done completely, should only take you about 10 minutes a day.

The Scent Connection

While you’ll find a lot of naysayers out there on the benefits of aromatherapy, studies have shown it to have great effects on one malady in particular:

Anxiety.

I have my own theory of why this may work. For one, researchers recently discovered that you have olfactory cells all over your body.  So it follows that if you use a scented oil, you are harnessing the scent power of the oil and delivering it to your entire body.

Scented oils also work for anxiety because:

1.) You receive the benefits of massage, even if you are doing it yourself

2.) Paying attention to what you are doing feels like a meditation

3.) Smelling essential oils during the process works a little like it does for a monk smelling sandalwood or a Christian smelling incense while praying

4.) Scent has a way of establishing you in the moment when you focus on it

 
MassageOilRecipe: Citrus Blend

This recipe I have been using is the one below I modified from www.naturallivingideas.com, which also guides you through a wonderful how-to on mixing oils. Though it is intended to promote emotional well-being, but the effect on me has been nothing less than extreme contentedness (that might be the same thing).

Clary Sage: 3 drops – (middle: dry, tea-like and floral)

Jasmine: 2 drops – (middle: warm, rich, deeply floral)

Bergamot:  12  drops – (top note: fresh, spicy, floral, citrus)

Benzoin: 5 drops – (base: rich, sweet, similar to vanilla)

Ylang Ylang:  2 drops – (base: rich, sweet, floral)

Grapefruit: 2  drops – (secondary top note: fresh, tangy, citrus)

Carrier Oil:  2/3 C. Jojoba oil (most like human oils, little to no scent)

***My friend Amy says this oil I’ve been making smells like Napoleon’s iconic perfume Eau de Cologne which he had custom-made.

I can’t help but share the self-love. My new plan is to develop half a dozen different types of self massage oil for my friends to try out and comment back on. Have you tried self-massage? What do you do for anxiety?

The Mad Men Party Space You Can Rent Near Portland

MadMen1

airstreamThere is an alternate reality, and in that universe of somewhere else I have enough money to rent the new clubroom at the World of Speed Museum in Wilsonville, Ore.

And I know exactly what I would do there. I would invite every person I know in Oregon (they might all fit in this room) to come have craft cocktails with me in this second-floor space decked out with mid-century modern furniture and have a Mad Men-themed party.

It’s called the “Atomic Lounge,” and if it doesn’t feel completely authentic to you, that’s because it’s not. The place is a like greatest hits parade of iconic furniture from the mid-century in five separate sitting areas, tucked away in an upper corner of the new building housing the museum.

You’ve got your lucite poppy clutching your bottom chair set.

MadMen2

Your art collector sitting as low to the ground without actually touching it photo opp.

MadMen3

You have your “I might actually watch sports here” lounging area.

MadMen4

And your meet-me-under-the-stars-of-a-celestial-chandelier swingers bar.

MadMen5

Your inner hobbit can cozy up to this Jetsons-awesome floating fireplace.

MadMen6

In a pinch, you can always ignore the people from the second floor of your office meeting of the knees.

MadMen7

As soon as my art patron steps up to fund a salon presence worthy of my creative life, I know exactly where I’ll throw my first party.

Or, if cars are your thing, you can always pop downstairs to see funny cars, racing cars and the entire history of speed racing in the Pacific Northwest.

Vroom!

Notes from a Travel Writer: A DIY Writing Retreat in 6 Steps

017

Given a choice, I’d write in this cabin at the Lake of the Woods in Southern Oregon. Given no time and money, I’ll take the backyard.

airstreamI work from home, and it’s a nightmare every day. All around me, my house and family beg to be tended. Dishes call to me from the sink. I’m sure I can smell the decay of laundry piling up from a floor away. The dust gets downright sassy. And yet, I’ve found a way to make it work — to ignore what must (eventually) be done in favor of what must be done right now:

The work of my writing life.

But a writing retreat? In the home? Can’t I just go to the San Juans or something?

My area of the country is home to a ton of writing retreat areas, but it’s not in the cards for me right now. So I thought I’d try to do one at home to see if there is something to be learned from retreating from your daily life while you’re still in it.

The Problem

Information abounds about how to make the most of an at-home writing retreat. The number one approach is to make a solid commitment to yourself and your writing for a specific space of time. Some recommend doing it with a friend. Most everyone says that setting goals for your writing retreat should be the number one priority.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any problem  setting goals. I am a goal-setting monster, which is why you could line a marathon route with my list of to-do’s. What I do far less is free-write — simply write in the old-school hand-to-paper method and see what comes up, take these handshakes and mental high-fives happening constantly in my mind and just get them down, see what happens.

For me, this is the goal of a writing retreat. It’s a mind dump of the best sort — a space for free-flowing activity that exists wholly within the structure of a place and a time. The challenge is to come up with that SPACE.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer my tips for an at-home, DIY Writing Retreat.

1.Prepare Your Retreat Kit

Kit

You can have your writing retreat packet ready to go, and because the barrier to entry for writing is so minimal, you don’t need much. But a word about coffee cups. You know how when you arrive at an amazing destination you often find they have the WRONG COFFEE CUPS. Like giant thick-lipped ones, or dainty saucered ones? Pick one of your cups that you don’t like. Remember: You’re on vacation! The goal is to feel different from routine.

2. Disrupt Your Routine

Office

Here’s my normal routine. Not bad, right? But if the goal is to get away…

You really have to be somewhere other than where you normally are for a writing retreat. Otherwise it’s not a retreat, is it?

  • If you write at a desk, try on your lap
  • If you write at a laptop, try by hand
  • If you always write in the same chair, choose a different chair
  • If you write inside, write outside
  • If you write alone, consider inviting a friend

3. Add Sensual Details

Lavender
No surprise here, I find scent particularly transporting. If I can’t travel by foot I can always travel by nose. Here is how.

  • Light a Modern Mint aromatherapy candle.
  • Smell a favorite perfume before you begin.
  • If you have a place you wish you could go (say, Bend, OR), smell something associated with the place (like Pure Organic Ponderosa Pine Essential Oil)
  • If you are working with memory, get an object to smell or touch that evokes the memory

4. Read a Travel Passage (or four)

TravelWriting

A few of my favorite transporting writing, a style for every mood.

If the goal of getting yourself in a different space feels impossible, find some great passages of travel literature that will transport you from your NOW, something from Paul Theroux (The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific), or Pico Iyer (The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere), or Alain de Botton (The Art of Travel), or Kaui Hart Hemmings (The Descendants: A Novel), whatever transporting work can take you somewhere else. Basically you need words that feel like a plane ride (or a surf board, or a train trip, whatev).

5. Find Your Blinders

Just try feeling the same with this guy on your hand...

Just try feeling the same with this guy on your hand…

What do I mean by blinders? I mean, some kind of token item you can wear that you wouldn’t wear otherwise, something that would help you feel a little different, more on vacation, more playful. Anything at all that’s different from routine.

Some ideas:

  • A feather boa. Okay, not for me, but maybe for you, or just a killer scarf
  • A cool hat. I’m thinking a sun hat for me since I ended up outside
  • Flip-flops — especially if you don’t wear them normally
  • A puppet — to act out your dialogues that come out
  • A pair of shades

Does this sound silly? It is. But it might work for you. Best to leave judgment at home and see what you like.

6. Work Those Prompts

NatalieI have always loved Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within and was deeply happy when her book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoircame out a few years ago. It has some truly excellent writing prompts for writers of memoir. Not all will yield something of value for your work, but that’s not the point. It’s about getting in the work flow and seeing what emerges.

Or not. You don’t need writing prompts, but they are there if you do. If you have no time to go to the library, you could always just print out this list.

Best wishes for a happy, productive, or just plain awesome brain dump! If you have any ideas on how to create space for creativity in your own space, I’d love to hear them!

Postcards from the Edge (of the Pacific)

Dame1perfume-1A few weeks ago, while trolling the indie perfuming sites, I came across Dame Perfumery in Scottsdale, AZ, a father & son perfumery led by a nose with a penchant for postcards.

“Perfume for me is all about a connection between two people, and while yes here we are on the internet sharing words there is no human touch to the experience.” — Jeffrey Dame

It works like this: You send him a postcard from your hometown listing the perfume sample you’d like to try from his perfumery, and he’ll put your postcard up when he opens his perfume concept store.

I adore postcards, but there aren’t that many from my hometown. Most have wine country motifs, few are worth sending to a stranger. But I found a nice one from Type A Letterpress in McMinnville, which showed McMinnville to be the center of a small universe. Ca-ching!

So above is the postcard I sent to Mr. Dame, with its message below. It might not stand out on the wall, but for lovers of letterpress it begs to be touched.

Dame3Just a week and a half later, this came in the mail:

  • Large vial of Black Flower Mexican Vanilla
  • Small tester of Desert Rose
  • Small tester of Dark Horse Cologne
  • Small tester of Herb Man
  • Small tester of Verbena, Freesia and Musk

Dame2 What a wonderful way to get your product out in the world and make a connection with a scent lover! And clever, too. For while I chose probably the most gloriously bombastic scent in his list to try — hey, I like to play with fire sometimes — he might have known me better than I knew myself, for it was the Desert Rose I really connected with.

His Desert Rose is a blend of Turkish rose otto and Damascenia Rose with touches of peach, Sicilian lemon, Egyptian jasmine, geranium, carnation, heliotrope, sandalwood, musk, amber and vanilla. Its the perfect scent to carry a Pacific Northwest rose season just a little bit farther.

Thank you, Mr. Dame! Let us know when your store launches. I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of your postcard wall!

Atlas Hugged: How to Stop Collecting Globes, or Anything Else

My favorite globe, gifted to me from a fourth grade teacher in Portland.

My favorite globe, gifted to me from a fourth grade teacher in Portland.

HouseI didn’t do it consciously. It wasn’t like I woke up one day and decided I was going to start collecting Cold War-era globes. Seriously, who does that? But within a year, I had four. And I started realizing that globes were sneaking up on me in other areas of my life.

Like any good self-examiner, I started wondering what was going on.

I had started decorating with globes.

The nymph sculpture is my husband's work, carved from a root.

The nymph sculpture is my husband’s work, carved from a root. I picked up the painting at a vintage shop in Aurora, Ore. It’s a watercolor of Grosvenor Square in London, from 1922.

The globes had started congregating in my office.

My husband found most of these at Goodwill.

My husband found most of these at Goodwill.

One day, my friend gave me this gorgeous globe necklace.

You can take it with you and, of course, it falls at your heart.

You can take it with you and, of course, it falls at your heart.

Two years after the fact, I realized that I had even made my son into a globe, for our local UFO parade.

My kids are my whole world.

My kids are my whole world.

Why We Collect

Psychologists estimate that about a third of people collect, and the reasons vary immensely. You might not be surprised to read that people who study collecting always point to the psychological underpinnings of the behavior. It has everything to do with the high-game stakes of life and death and our shoddy attempts at cheating the inevitable.

In other words, you’re older than you’ve ever been and now you’re even older!

Are we trying to fill a void in our lives that was never filled? Motivated by the existential urge to make our ephemeral existences more permanent? Connecting ourselves to an object in an attempt to hang our identity hats on something in the physical realm? Simply misplacing an age-old survival tactic?

The desire to control even a small part of the chaos of the universe is great — even greater so for me since I became a mother and became the ruler of the universe.

“The objects and their organization bind us to something larger than ourselves, and as religion was born out of a fear of death and the wish of eternal life, collecting expresses the same fundamental urges.” – Philipp Blom, NYTimes.com

I like that idea. It feels so definitive, and yet, I don’t think it says enough. It certainly doesn’t explain my globe collecting to myself. After all, every collection is an attempt at personal storytelling, with the beginning (the idea) and the end (your death) being just the bookends.

Golden Globes

I can tell you the exact moment I fell in love with  maps. As a child, I had attended one of those no-walls elementary schools developed in the 1970s. Between my fourth-grade classroom and the bathroom was a storage space where our teachers had placed several giant maps of the world on movable rolling barriers.

The relief map of Europe was my favorite. During bathroom breaks I often stopped there and ran my fingers along the word Czechoslovakia. Ever since, nothing makes me tingle more than a map. It’s the travel writer in me – the person who sees a place name and imagines being there. Just what would happen to me in the place between here and there?

But globes? As physical objects they are so much more compelling than a map.The earth trembles under your hands.  They harness space and time in a way that accentuates our place in the universe. So tiny, but with such a great and expanding view.

You can certainly hug a globe.

So there it is – a childhood back story, a life calling to become a travel writer. Self-identification as a worldly person. A global symbology upon which I could hang a collection.

In my life, the globes came forth.

Enough is Enough

You can see the possible end to this story. Emily decides she’s into globes and then acquires globes for the rest of her life until her house is like a mini universe of rotating Earths. Each holiday, her friends and family find new and inspired ways to bring the globe back into her life, to appease this unending global hunger.

That’s not the way it’s working out, thank God. For me, the balance has come from two areas 1.) Identifying what the collection means and 2.) Becoming something of a feng shui nut. These two things aren’t mutually exclusive. I have found a way to both be thrilled with my collection and not let it take control of my space.

Collecting and feng shui

In her wonderful book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, Karen Kingston writes about how collections happen. When you collect, you choose object based on their metaphorical meaning. After all, I’m not collecting vintage medical tools or Pez dispensers. These are globes.

Kingston says that when the collector has moved through the stage where she draws metaphorical meaning from the object, she can stop collecting.

You mean you don’t have to collect something for the rest of your life?!

Yes. You can stop now.

Really.

And I did. I stopped. Because here’s the real reason I was collecting globes.

Since having children and becoming a mostly stay-at-home mom, my world has gotten smaller, sometimes suffocatingly so. International travel is pretty much off my radar. Since my entire world exists in about 2,000 ft.2, and I work from home, I have sometimes felt like a John Denver song unable to reach its chorus. And while I do get out a lot more than other moms since I do a fair amount of travel writing professionally, the distance between the center of my circle and its periphery is very small.

But the world is out there! It’s waiting for me, for another time. I am small and the world is big. And every day I have reminders of that. Sure, they may be reminders with political boundaries from my childhood, but there is some comfort in that, too. These globes are reminders that the borders are always shifting, that attempts at control break down over time. Rivers change paths. Mountains crumble, a planet swiftly tilting and all.

Once I realized this, I didn’t really need any more globes. I love them, I’m keeping them all (for now), but let’s not get carried away here. Now, I have something different. I have am left to enjoy the process of having an acquisitive eye, which means when I see globes out there looking awesome (as so many of them do), I can merely snap a pic for Instagram or add it to my ever-growing collection on Pinterest of globes.

The Internet saves the world again.

PinterestGlobes

Making a collection work for you

Feng shui guru Kathryn Weber has a really great breakdown about how to assess if your collection is working for you. It’s got some truly stellar questions you can ask yourself about your collection and your collecting habit that will help you see your collection as the story that it is in your life.

In the end, you can’t control other people, but you can control yourself. I know someone who liked penguins as a child and was still getting penguins a decade after she was over it. My German host father has an overflowing owl cabinet, for example, though he really seems into it. My husband has too many collections to recollect: bonsai, flutes, wheel-thrown pottery. He’s unstoppable.

But you have to be really vocal about just what your relationship is to these objects. If you find yourself getting gifted a lot for your collection, don’t forget:

You’re the curator, here.

Do you have a collection? Do you know why you are collecting?

8 New Candlemakers Using Natural Scents

If Yankee Candle is your idea of hell on earth (as it is for me), consider these artisan candle makers, who are using natural essential oil blends in wholly interesting combinations.

1. Paddywax Library

ExLibrisThese candle makers have made an entire business targeting me! Paddywax makes soy wax candles using real essential oils inspired by great writers. Lately I’ve been using the “Oscar Wilde,” which is a delightfully herby combo of cedarwood, thyme and basil. Together the smell very leathery, like how you might want an old library to smell.

2. Archipelago

driftwoodcandle_5These candles are the height of luxury, incorporating natural scents in a way that feels like perfume, but is subtle enough for use in the home. They burn for a ridiculously long 90 hours. Driftwood, my favorite, features Water Hyacinth, Driftwood and Tonka Bean.

3. Hi Wildflower Botanica

HiCandlesTanwi Nandini Islam is my new hero. She’s a scentaholic in Brooklyn making her empire of candles, natural perfumes and other body care products. They feel global but personal, which is an interesting feat. Sourcing from all over the world and mixing herself, she makes scents that have a strongly floral component. For an amazing seasonal approach I’d try the Wildflowers and Rain showers soy candle.

4. Brooklyn Candle Studio

BrooklynCandleEverything about Brooklyn Candle Studio’s approach to making candles (nodding to 19th century apothecaries, using natural scents) is awesome. The company uses long-lasting soy wax and braided cotton wicks as well as natural essential premium grade and phthalate-free essential oils. Try the Montana Forest candle for place-based serenity.

5. 1820 House

1820house

This fascinating artisan candle maker in Ohio is harnessing ideas and scents from the Rust Belt in place-based combinations such as blackberry and arugula, moss and brownstone, or thistle and milk. For a truly location-inspired scent experience, try one of her Rust Belt candles.

6. Vancouver Candle Co.

VancouverCandleThese artisan candles from a Canadian candle-maker burn clean and are long-lasting, with simpler scents harnessing the individual essences. Rarely does Nick Rabuchin use more than three oils at a time. Try the Point Grey, a marriage of cedarwood, balsam and vanilla.

7. D.L. & Co.

dl-co-pomme-thumb-620x311-72782While I’ll always fall for the pared-down, apothecary aesthetic of most artisan candle makers, I’m a sucker for a funny package. At over $100 a pop, its Poison Apple candle is a splurge worth reckoning with. But for the right receiver, it might bring just the right amount of subversive whimsy to gift-giving.

8. Himalayan Handmade Candles

himalayan_candleCandlemaker Julia Leaphart spent her childhood in the foothills of the Himalayas, and her candles are inspired by a sense of nostalgia she carries with her. Try the Bluebell Forest, with woodland florals, – bluebells, violets, jasmine, rose and lily of the valley.

Do you have a favorite alternative to mass-produced, icky-smelling chemical candles? Please tell me about it.

Truffle Week! 7 Days Experimenting with Oregon Truffles

Truffles1

A low-key tool: Carved-out milk jug.

GrapesTruffles are the olfactory powerhouses of the Oregon forest.  Their scent is full of contractions: intoxicating but subtle, deeply earthy yet ethereal and out-of-this-world.

If ever you needed proof of the connection between olfaction and taste, consider the truffle.

I’ve done a lot of truffle hunting since moving to Oregon six years ago, and I can’t get past how they turn me into Gargamel every time, unleashing in me an energy and a drive that can keep me digging in the woods for hours on end. Every meal seems a little more special, a little more hard-won when you cook with truffles. It’s not the market price — though Oregon truffles can fetch over $300 a lb. It’s the way they take the feeling that you get from walking through a cathedral of an Oregon forest and transport that feeling to whatever you are eating.

But the thing you are actual cooking with is not taste at all, but the truffle’s scent, a come-hither perfume that smells like sex and earth and rot and musk.

This was my motivation behind my 7 Days of Oregon Truffles. My goal? To experiment with various dishes to see what harnesses the magic of the Oregon truffle most completely. In short, to find a dish worthy of the truffle.

I started this little truffle experiment as a way to interpret an Oregon ingredient in my own household — a kind of meet-and-great of Oregon’s best kitchens with my own. I hope you enjoy these little stories about cooking with Oregon  truffles.

Tips: Cooking with Truffles

When you cook with truffles, your mind is challenged to artistry. Your jeans? Challenged to accommodate your zest for life. If you dare to eat truffles for a week,  you, too might find the truffle can take over. Your greatest fear becomes nothing from the world outside — news of torture and war and suffering and poverty. The greatest worry of all is that this truffle will go bad and you will have stolen a treasure and let it molder away right under your nose.

Truffles

A cross-section of Oregon black truffles.

Here’s a few generalities about cooking with truffles:

  • Keep it simple — too many flavors can overpower with the truffle.
  • Make it all about the truffle.
  • Use very fat-laden preparations like creams and cheeses.
  • Very often, truffle oil is a better alternative to using truffles directly.
  • Do not cook with truffles or truffle oil. They are a finishing product.
  • Use the truffle at the height of its aromatic powers, when it is ripe.

Day 1: Mushroom Risotto with Truffles

Risotto

The plates were on the table. The forks were in the hand. Truffles sliced on top.

This is the point when my dear neighbor arrived and got into a heated conversation with my husband about the scientific merits of the film What the Bleep Do We Know. That film is a major intellectual wormhole — pretty much the last thing you’d want to start talking about when you’re preparing to devote all of your attention to your tongue.

I was done with my risotto before my husband even touched his. It wasn’t long before I had drifted into a state of complete and utter bliss — until I got to thinking that maybe these truffles weren’t really truffles at all, but magic mushrooms. Within minutes, I had spaced out completely and was moved, as if ordered by remote control, to take more from the pot.

My husband had a similar, if muted, reaction. Sadly, he has a pretty bad sense of smell because of his allergies, which does affect his truffle experience.

Lesson: Truffles make everything taste better.

They are like little umami catalysts. They are little symphony conductors that force all of the Parmesan, arborio rice, white wine, garlic, onions and mushrooms to play exactly as loud as they should. They are music to my tongue.

Day 2: Asparagus with Truffles

TruffleAsparagus

Roasted asparagus, with just a little olive oil — and if you have some on hand, sliced truffles. I generally roast a pound of asparagus (and that’s for two people!), drizzled with a little olive oil, at 375 for about 18 minutes. Last night, I added the sliced truffles with about one minute to go.

They make the asparagus taste like it has just been pulled out of the earth and walked on a plate through the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles . Or, thinking about it another way, this is absolutely the most decadent and charming version of ants on a log that I’ve ever encountered.

Lesson: Not a first choice for truffle use, but if you happen to have too many truffles, go for it.

Day 3: Potato Leek Soup with Truffle Oil

Creamy-Potato-and-Leek-Soup
Soups are the great matchmakers of the world. Given time, and the right characteristic properties, they can take two otherwise curmudgeonly ingredients, introduce them, let them mingle, and within a day, they are married and living happily ever after.

For this Truffle Week challenge — a challenge that has been hampered these last few days by some unexpected interruptions — I set out to discover how Oregon Spring black truffles would affect the love-making properties of a French-style potato leek soup.

In a word: Felicity.

Potato leek soup is already a winner without the truffles. Its richness doesn’t overwhelm, but surprises, lingers, and then spreads to throughout the body into an overall sense of well-being.

Lesson: A wholly good use of truffles.

Day 4: Truffle Butter

butter1

By now, my jeans were fitting a little tighter, my lap feels a little smaller, and my arteries — if you can feel arteries –are packed. I wasn’t sure I could keep up this exercise. Even if I tempered my truffle-infused, cream-based dishes with a side salad, I’ve been leaving the table feeling like I never want to eat again.

And though I had given away five of the twelve truffles I pulled out of the Oregon forest floor, I was finding that these babies go very, very far and just keep changing with my whims. They are power-packed. They are long distance runners.

To be honest, they are starting to get a little annoying. Truffle Week should probably have been Truffle Night.

On Day 4, I pulled out my old Bayerisches Kochbuch and flipped to the pages for Kartoffelpuffer — potato pancakes, latkes, whatever you want to call them, whatever your culture, these are much-loved street food in Germany and are  often served with applesauce. I like mine with sour cream and chives. With a side of pork schnitzel. And a thin smear of truffle butter on top.

I used one of the remaining truffles to make a little canister of truffle butter. Not too difficult, just chopped really small and mixed in soft butter. I’ve been eyeing this French butter dish, or something similar to it, at the Portland Saturday Market. Seems like a better choice than a custard cup.

Lesson: Truffle butter goes great on, well, just about anything. 

I’m not sure that I’d try it on sweeter dishes, but I’m sure it can be spread across any manner of baked goods — brownies, savory muffins, whatever.

We should all be happy that no one has come up with truffle potato chips.

Whoops.  Too late.

Day 5: Truffle with Pizza

A word about truffle and pizza. If you sprinkle truffles on anything acidic, say, a red sauce on a pizza, you are wasting the truffle Just don’t do it. Epic fail.

Day 6: Spaghetti in a Mushroom Cream Sauce with Truffles

trufflespaghetti

All this sauce took was a little garlic, a lot of butter, a lot of cream, some less-than-worthy button mushrooms from Olympia, WA. The taste, when jazzed up with a tablespoon of Oregon black truffles, is just about enough to bowl me over. It is certainly enough to make me regret eating so much.

I added these truffle shavings at the last moment, after the sauce had boiled to a proper thickness and cooled a bit off the burner. Then I stirred in the truffles and gave them a minute or two to work their truffle magic — you know, the meet and greet I’ve talked about above, which allows the truffles to coax out the right flavors and scents in the other ingredients.

Lesson: This was by far my favorite use of the truffle in my household this week. It got me to shut up and eat.

Day 7: Black Truffle Ice Cream

Truffleicecream

Ice cream and mushrooms are two mutually exclusive tastes in my book. Luckily, truffles aren’t really mushrooms. They are tubers — but not in the sense of a potato. They are the fruiting body of a species of fungi that propagates itself much like  fungi do. Nor are they particularly closerly related to what we normally think of as fungi.

They are really in a class all of their own.

And while I am not one who believes that all strange tastes lend themselves to good ice creams, I can say that truffle ice cream, when made with Oregon spring black truffles, is delicate and interesting enough to be worth the expense of a single truffle.

The recipe I used is from the FOOD Network and calls for “honey cream.” If anyone knows what that is, please enlighten me. I had no idea, and couldn’t find it online, so I just added some honey to some cream.

Truffle ice cream hits the tongue cool and earthy, but then mellows out as the tongue picks up the cream, sugar and honey. The lingering flavor at the end is sweet truffle, which tastes something like mushroomy chocolate that’s been sifted through peat moss.

I must have underestimated myself, because the truffle ice cream grew on me. I ate two bowls. They were small.  Still, if given a choice, I’d take a baci gelato or a maracuya sorbet over truffle ice cream any day of the week.

Lesson: Try it, but don’t repeat.

If You Can’t Dig for Truffles: Oregon White Truffle Oil

JackAssuming you don’t live in Oregon — sorry! — and assuming you don’t live in one of the great truffle-producing regions of the world, you might consider finding other ways to harness the olfactory magic of the truffle.

My favorite is Oregon White Truffle Oil, an artisan product by my adoptive Oregon father Jack Czarnecki and he is the owner and former chef of the Joel Palmer House, the Dayton, Ore. restaurant that arguably uses more domestic truffles than any other in the United States.

Several years ago, Czarnecki passed his toque blanche at the Joel Palmer House to his son Chris, an Iraq War veteran who has been shaking things up and introducing some new dishes to the JPH menu. You can find a recipe of one of his new masterpieces, Angel Hair Pasta with Dungeness Crab, here.

Jack is crazy in the forest. He digs in the dirt with a zeal that can last for hours at a stretch. It is back-breaking labor that never gets old for him — not when he doesn’t find a truffle for two hours, not when the patch he is digging in doesn’t yield.  He’s exactly the kind of person I like to attach all of my Oregon dreaming to — a little nuts about what he does, very smart man doing very physical work, a visionary in overalls.

TruffleOilNow, not everyone can afford to buy truffles. I certainly can’t. But what Jack has actually done is create America’s first truffle oil.

Truffle oil?

You’ve probably had it on French fries or drizzled on risotto in upscale restaurants. But it wasn’t necessarily the real deal. There’s been a truffle oil backlash of late based on the revelation that most of the oils being used in America are synthetic.

In other words, most people are faking it.

And while I admit that it seems completely ridiculous to get caught up in most foodie rows over authenticity, truffle oil is something I am happy to get angry about.

Jack’s not a faker. He’s developed a system to capture the organic essence of the truffle in an oil in a safe way and is now selling bottles of it for $29.99 for Oregon White Truffles and $34.99 for Oregon Black Truffles from his website.

I hope you enjoyed my week of experimenting with Oregon Truffles. Have you tried them or seen them around? How do you like to use your oil?