Sweet Nothings and Thanks: Meringues Violette


I’m feeling thankful for so much this season. High up on that long list are all the kind, intelligent readers out there who’ve sent me emails, tweets, Facebook messages and actual real-life letters or just dropped by the blog to hang out for awhile, and all the other readers I haven’t heard from and never will but who I know are out there anyway. I never thought my life would look like it does right now, and it wouldn’t without you. Thank you.


So, I wanted to make you a couple of drinks tonight–two creme de violette cocktails, sparkles and velvet. I had it all planned. I would get up early in the morning and work on my Friday post about the Art of Scent exhibit and the surrounding “Is perfume art?” brouhaha, and then I would take a break and make the drinks. I already knew what was in them, I just needed to figure out the exact measurements so I’m not giving you directions like “a third a glass of bourbon and the same of black tea” (what kind of glass?) or “a skoche of gin–just enough to make it a bit drier” (what exactly is a skoche anyway?). Continue Reading

Thank You, Austin

(Note for the perfumistas: There is some scent and perfume talk down at the bottom of this post and a giveaway for those of you who make it all the way through.)


Long ago, back in the dark, pre-perfume days of my life when I was still trying my damnedest to get a job as an English professor come hell, highwater or a temp position in a town I couldn’t find on a map, I would be coming around the particularly pretty curve of North Lamar that runs alongside Shoal Creek on my way from one of the best indie bookstores in the country to one of the best grocery stores in the country, or swimming through the cold, glassy green spring-fed water of Barton Springs in the still quiet of the morning, or picking strawberries at Boggy Creek Farm (where I know the farmers by name and a photo of me holding a bouquet of zinnias magically appeared on the farm stand wall one day) and a small voice, just loud enough to be heard over the dull roar of my chronic anxiety, would ask: What if this were your life?  What if, instead of an academic, you became a…Texan! Continue Reading

Stormy Monday: Niki de St. Phalle



I’ll be continuing on with the reveal series this week, but my head and heart are so much with all my friends on the Eastern Seaboard that I want to take a moment first, to wish everyone safe passage through the storm.


Austin was–and still is–a safe haven for many people driven from their homes by hurricanes.  Each storm is unique. There’s no way to compare what’s happening right now in New York, D.C., and elsewhere to what happened in New Orleans. Nevertheless, I can’t look at images of Sandy like the one above without vivid memories of watching Katrina, and then Rita make their inevitable way into the Gulf.  It makes a gut-level difference, having lived through those events, even secondhand. I can’t even imagine how it feels for people with more direct experience.


So far, my city friends seems to be tackling storm prep with typical style. Reports on Twitter suggest wine and liquor stores are emptying out–and apparently there was a run on kale in Brooklyn.  I’m seeing many crockpots fired up to make chili, braised ribs and other comfort foods before the storm truly arrives and much ice cream consumed before the power goes out. I’m crossing my fingers that all the media attention will mean those without true shelter will get some help during and after the storm.


In the meantime, since I’m worried, but can’t help in any practical way, I’m depending on sympathetic magic. Continue Reading

Dried Apricots and Sweet Wine: Back Home with a Report and a Recipe


Goodness, it’s been a little while, hasn’t it?  I have so much admiration for the tireless bloggers out there who manage to keep posting through storm, sickness and travel. I’m not sure I’ll ever be one, but I will try to get on a more regular schedule around here in the coming weeks. I do apologize to those of you waiting for your Botrytis samples. They are finally on their way with some accompanying goodies to make up for my being such a poor multi-tasker.




My week in Boise was a whirlwind of events and emotion. I talked with a group of writers about scent vocabulary and their scent memories and raised a bit of money for The Cabin, the great organization (housed in a retro-fitted historical log cabin) that sponsored the workshop. Continue Reading

Dark Violets and Kusmi Tea Violette


I spent the first year of my perfume adventure longing for dark violets. I dreamed of walking through the woods, surrounded by the scent of tiny flowers hidden in the shadows. But every time I opened a sample vial hoping to set out on that journey, I ended up backstage at the follies choking on old-fashioned face powder or sucking on a chalky Choward’s tablet at a bus stop in the rain.


Eventually I found what I was looking for in perfumes like Serge Lutens’ Bois de Violette, where the dark violets are paired with a hefty dose of cedar, and another Lutens creation, Feminite du Bois where spiced plums accompany the cedar/violet mix. Creed’s Love in Black gave me a perfect dark violet for the half hour stretch between the opening flourish and the musky/woody drydown. The plush violet smoke weaving in and out of the heart of Guerlain’s discontinued (and much lamented) Attrape Couer taught me that shadow and powder are not always opposites. More recently, perfumer Maria McElroy’s Geisha Violet, showed me that a violet perfume could be candied and dark at the same time. McElroy makes her sweet, dark violets shimmer with a touch of genuine lilac essence–not a watery spring lilac but a warm, slightly spicy summer flower–and then darkens the mix with bitter, unfoody chocolate. The result is odd, compelling, changeable and beautiful.


By the time I heard about Kusmi’s Tea Violette from my friend Jessica, of the charming Tinsel Creation, my love of violet scents had expanded to include delicate green violets and even the occasional Chowards-ish spritz, but what captured my imagination was the thought of black tea and a velvet touch of dark violet. And that, wonder of wonders, is exactly what it is.

Continue Reading

Jasmine Bellinis: A Recipe


It’s Friday. There’s a Blue Moon tonight. Let’s all have a drink, shall we?


I made these jasmine bellinis for my Austin book event at the amazing Bookpeople.  I brought the jasmine-infused peach purée. They provided the bubbly. We mixed them on the spot, glass by glass, 1/3 purée to 2/3 wine. Part of what that meant was that as people walked in and greeted each other you could hear the staff popping corks in the background. A most celebratory sound. The reading went well and no one seemed to mind waiting in the line for signing books.  I give these all the credit.

Continue Reading

Of Beginnings and Imaginary Bellinis: A Welcome

When I began drafting this post, we were still in the early, barely warm days of summer in Austin and the first peaches of the season had just arrived—tiny, with a pale, delicate flavor. Another series of deadlines went by, the heat arrived, and the peaches got sweeter. Much sweeter. The ones up above were part of a crop so fragrant that I did a double-take when I walked by the produce section and looped back to find the source of that maddening, tangy, mouthwatering scent.


They were truly ripe white peaches, rich and floral on the tongue,  and they made me dream of Jasmine Bellinis: white peach purée, Prosecco and a tiny drop of jasmine absolute, the concentrated essence of the heady flower. My bottle was sourced by natural perfumer Mandy Aftel. It is unbelievably smooth, with an undertone of bitter chocolate, but it is also very dark and a little wild—half animal and half flower. Adding a tiny drop of it to the puréed peaches not only amplifies their fragrance, it gives them a kiss of humid summer heat—a touch of the decay that is so often necessary to make something truly luscious. The bubbles in the wine lift all that into something celebratory, and tickle your nose with the scent before you even take a sip.


At least, I hope that’s how it will be. Because the truth is, though the Prosecco is chilling in the fridge, the jasmine absolute is on my desk, and a half dozen white peaches are waiting on the counter, my Jasmine Bellinis are still imaginary.


I first got the idea for Jasmine Bellinis months ago, when I found this beautiful recipe pairing jasmine and peaches while collecting examples of fragrant cuisine for Chef Dana Tommasino my co-host for a Scent Dinner at Woodward’s Garden in San Francisco this March.  And I’ve been imagining them—dreaming of them even—ever since. I’ve been matching the flavors in my mind, comparing them to paired accords in perfumes I know, like the way the beautiful peach in the heart of Guerlain’s Mitsouko perfume, especially in my vintage version, marries with the warm earth, herbs and hay of the oakmoss in its base, or the way the touch of overripe melon in Frederic Malle’s Parfum de Therese is doubled by the scent of soft, sumptuous, floral leather and lifted up by the aldehydes in the topnotes.


Those of you who have followed my adventures on Now Smell This  know I don’t shy away from experimenting in the kitchen until I get something right. What I’ve been missing is the proper motivation and occasion. What I’ve been missing is all of you.

Continue Reading