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Valentine's Day Scent, Gift and Gear Roundup

Valentine’s Day Extra Newsletter:

Scent of a Baker and Special Gifts Bonus
February 2004

See the pretty red and hot pink suede tote handbag? It is only one of many Valentine’s Day Suggestions. Read on…….(Heart Handbag from www.marialyons.com - if you cannot see it - follow link)

The BetterBaking.Com Test Kitchen receives many neat things to test – from housewares, ingredients, fragrance, and more. Scent and home fragrance products are always in our midst here, but other neat things, especially with Valentine’s Day in mind, also come through our doors.  As with our gift round-up at the holidays last year, we are finding a bunch of nice things to share – that are related to food, scent, or that catch all term, lifestyle products.

 

Here are some unique treats we have found that are great gifts for someone near and dear to you this Valentine’s Day (or any other occasion) or simply, be-good-to-yourself perks. Be forewarned, this is a long round-up but, there is indeed a bonus recipe at the end.

Scent of a Baker

In scent, one of the nicest and most unusual gift ideas comes from www.aloraambience.com. This Minneapolis company has created a beautiful apothecary jar of scented solution that features a wooden top that has special holes in it. You place a few wooden sticks (that come with the ensemble) and they ‘soak’ up the fragrance and permeate, in a gentle way, any room it is placed in. The 16 ounce jar is aesthetic and the scents: Uno (light and floral), Due (fresh and clean) Tre (warm and earthy) and Isola (delicate and uplifting) are unlike the usual home fragrances. None are overpowering and yet the scent they waft is pervasive. Available in most states and in Canada, you can also visit the Alora website to order directly or find a source.  Burt’s Bees has a few neat things for winter – most of them Burt’s Bee’s classics but their Carrot Body Lotion and their Raspberry Lip Gloss wins kudos from BB for great scent (and taste) and great body care. They also have a vitamin E and comfrey lipstick, which is a great winter balm, but take care – it is quite minty or seemingly mentholated and gives your lips a startling ‘zing’. Burt’s Bees makes 100% all natural cosmetics and skin care products that are charming and not overly expensive, with a wide variety of products (garden hand care to talc free powders). Visit them at www.burtsbees.com or most department stores.

We often profile The Body Shop in Scent of a Baker, but this time around, we would like to share our appreciation of line of the Body Shop ‘butters’. These butters (unlike butter in cookies) are sublime, fruity blends of mango, or papaya, blueberry (one of my favorites) and shea butter. Most have a cocoa butter base; among other nutritive elements but the Shea Butter has both cocoa and shea butter. Nothing smells as good as this line of body butters, and nothing absorbs nor changes your skin quite as effectively. They are neither greasy nor heavy and the natural aromatherapy they offer is a bonus. There are delightful mini Lip Butters in companion flavors that are great to tuck into your purse. They also offer a body scrub, another trendy product, in a few different flavors. We recommend the Papaya Body Scrub as well as their Coconut Foaming Bath for a taste of the exotic – just around the time of year when you can really use it.

If you are baking a lot, your hands do get more dried out in winter – we have found these about the best product to offset that chapping. (We also recommend Norwegian Hand Cream – a pharmacy hand cream that also helps baker’s hands like none other).  Speaking of the Body Shop, those of you who have attended my baking classes in Toronto and Montreal, have asked ‘what smells so good?”. Well, it is the baking but it is also the use of Body Shop Aroma Jar (which I call an oil burner) and companion oils. No one makes a better made, or better priced oil burner than The Body Shop- it is brass and durable, and solidly designed in all aspects.  For my baking classes, wherever I am visiting, I usually have Body Shop Satsuma (which is mandarin orange scented), Vanilla and Cranberry Oil simmering away before the class even begins.  My students come in and are instantly put in the mood to bake (or sit and eat baking J) just with that first whiff of scented oils. One thing about the Body Shop – if you find an item you like, grab it! They come out with many new products and sometimes, favorites come and go, and special can be found at their website (and it is different for the USA and Canada). The butters are incredible skin care but check out the whole line at www.thebodyshop.com (and it will also direct you to the U.S., Canadian, and other sites).


Scented gifts you make yourself:

The BB Test Kitchen is also making its own scented gifts. I bought a slew of old-fashioned tin nutmeg graters from Fox Run Craftsman (check their U.S. and Canadian website to find dealers of their products; they are widely available throughout the States and Canada, www.foxruncraftsmen.com). I spray painted some graters and left others in their original tin finish. Into each, I tucked an infused dollar-store hanky (but you can use whatever bit of fabric you have hanging around) with Body Shop oils, as well as pure vanilla extract from Nielsen Massey and some scents from a scent supplier, Aquarius. A ribbon is looped through the hanging hole on the nutmeg grater and voila – a baker’s gift of aromatherapy was created in minutes. I packed these up in cellophane bags and ribbons. The gifts I prepared for each friend reflect their own tastes (one friend likes musk and amber scents; another is a spices and vanilla girl, and one of my favorite aunts likes lily of the valley and lilac). www.aquariusaroma-soap.com is one of my favored places for scents. They sell all sorts of related scent and body care supplies (such as bottles, atomizers, soap bases), scent blends, edible scents (if you are making lip balm or gloss) and a host of other fragrances you can use as they are or blend (as I do) Their fragrant scents are also wonderful in an oil burner jar. Some particular scents I recommend for your own projects include: Green Tea, Brown Sugar, Sugar Cookies (incredible!), Apple Pear, Pomegranate (along with fig and currant, this is the trend scent of the year), and a very special Orange Marmalade. For Valentine’s Day, try their Chocolate Fragrance oil to make a one-of-a-kind perfume for a chocoholic (or mix it with vanilla). Aquarius also supplies some amazing potpourri flowers such as whole Hibiscus, Rosehips, and Rose Buds. Instead of using store-bought potpourri (which is always cinnamon or orange lately!), you can toss rose buds and hibiscus with apple and rose oil, or rose and lavender for a customized (and soothing) mix. Their pink rose petals are great for scenting and scattering in your stationary or journals…. or making a rose petal trail. If you already have potpourri, which simply needs refreshing, toss them in some oils of your choice to re-enliven the mix with a new scent. Over time, potpourri gets kind of lame but you do not need to infuse it with cinnamon spice – try Kiwi or Mango, for a change. The Internet has so many scent companies – it is hard to know which are best. www.Aquarius-soap.com is one such- by far – and has the easiest, most efficient staff to help you. They have offices in the States and Canada and are a great one-stop-serves all fragrance supplier. The quality of their scents are incredible and the range of what they offer, similarly outstanding.

Another unusual oil burner place – which is really a treasure of a tea company, is our new friends over at Verithe www.verithe.com. This is one treasure of a company. They offer superb teas in beautiful gauze bags that come packed in cello envelopes bound with green silk cord. Each tea (teas bags as well as loose tea are available) comes with a bit about the tea’s heritage and directions to brew a fine cuppa. Aside from these aesthetic tea, Verithe should win a new product of the year award from the Fancy Food Association. They make a tea lollipop, that is, tea flavored (well, it is from real brewed tea and cane sugar) that is skewered on a rosemary twig, packed in a cellophane wrapper and tied in a green silk cord. The lollipops are luscious (they are deep amber color) and almost too pretty to eat. It is the sort of candy you might see at an upscale spa. Actually, a tub of Body Shop Blueberry Butter and one of these Verithe tea lollipops will make you feel you are at a spa! The company was sold out at Christmas but is now fully stocked with these sweets. They also just launched their own aroma jar, which burns teas. Check it all out at their site, which is as nicely designed as their product line, www.verithe.com. Like most of the companies we recommend, they are also a pleasure to deal with and most helpful. If you go for the pops, order a ton. They are perfect gifts.

More edibles? If you want to try a sumptuous version of BB’s own Warm chocolate Cake, Williams Sonoma www.Williams-Sonoma.com  has a Molten Chocolate Cake Kit that features all natural ingredients in a recipe created by a French pastry chef. We have not tried it yet but apparently, it is the hottest instant chocolate gift of the year. Williams Sonoma has also reintroduced ever popular, gourmet mixes for Bundt Cakes in a Double Chocolate, Strawberry and a tangy Lemon. All in all, the recent catalogue is exploding with new products, for every day cooking and baking and in particular, for Valentine’s Day. In the catalogue, you get the best view of what’s new, what color’s are in, and what’s trendy in food and the kitchen, (everything from aromatherapy dish soap to bistro style glasses). One of our favorite items is the pink Ribbed Batter Bowl – a great batter bowl with a pouring spout, just in time for Fat Tuesday. Their special rose heart wreath is another winning touch, and only available online at Williams Sonoma. At the WS site and in their catalogue, you will also see the latest in Kitchenaid products, including the Pro Line products. We tested the Kitchenaid Pro Line Burr Coffee Mill and were blown away. This is as heavy duty as you could ask for (and neat and clean to use!) and makes you feel like a Starbucks barrista. We also tried out their K9 Vintage Coffee Mill – another burr grinder. The Pro Line is for the gourmet fanatic who likes commercial look and performance. The K9 Vintage Retro Coffee Mill is great because it is retro and nifty, but also houses a full one-pound of coffee beans (that is such a boon!)

I can’t recommend these two coffee mills highly enough. If you dislike loud grinders, that also splatter as many grounds around your counter as they do into the jar, and hack the coffee beans rather than grind them, the Kitchenaid models will be most welcome in your kitchen. The other Pro Line items include a state of the art toaster (destined, as they say, to become a classic), a Frozen Dessert Maker, a commercial style Waffle Baker, and a Coffee maker (the Pro Line 12 cup) that looks like it belongs in a slick new deli. Some of the Pro Line items are nationally available or check out www.KitchenAid.com but some, are only available at time being at  www.Williams-Sonoma.com exclusively. According to sources, the products are flying off the shelves as fast as they get there.

Miscellaneous heart gifts also include pewter heart measuring spoons (check department stores, Beehive Kitchenware, RSVP International, and Paderno of Canada all make a version), heart shaped casseroles from Le Creuset, Chantal Cookware, and Wilton, of course. Satin wrapped boxes of heart chocolates are a Godiva specialty but many of our visitors have mentioned Ethel M. Chocolates as well. For flowers,  I encourage you to support your local, favorite florist. If you want one other option, there are incredible flowers, ‘Style’ Magazine sort of flowers from our friends at www.CalyxandCorolla.com. They are artistic, elegant, and different and there is still time to see their offerings online and order something. 

I confess – I am in a tote mood lately – for I carry recipe books and writing materials wherever I go – not to mention baking supplies (bakeware, pans, liters of vanilla, and cans of dulce de leche) when I teach. I also use totes when I shop – not as much for conservation (although I should) but for that sense of Europe I get – strolling with a canvas bag, packed with baguettes and yet another brand of balsamic vinegar. Ever notice, for some reason, just when you get keen on something, doesn’t it seem to also be in style? I had been using a few totes, which sooner or later, give way. Finally, I got serious and invested in a trio of great totes from L.L. Bean which were tested in carrying lightweight stuff like lap tops and writer’s gear as well as for test kitchen shopping trips, and bringing test kitchen items to kitchens I am visiting or teaching at.  My oversized tote from www.llbean.com is like a rug sack of an English novel is a Classic Field Tote, which despite its name, is a new item from LL Bean. It is a huge canvas affair with real leather straps and comes in a few colors and two sizes. This is the thing for taking along ‘gear’. Plain and simple. My mid size tote is their Boat and Tote, tote – and is what you want for magazines, journals, and a pocket book when you are out and about and do not need to overload your handbag. It as an added advantage of standing up on its own when you set it down. The Market Tote (and Organizer Tote), another new item, is what you want when you are schlepping books, an odd pound of coffee beans, and bunch of roses. The company monograms anything you would like. I think this is a perfect Valentine’s Day, birthday or Mother’s Day Gift. We will be chatting about totes again, come picnic season. 


And last, and best, and speaking of totes, the designer, Maria Lyons, loaned us a tote to beat all totes. It is a handbag really – of two-toned (scarlet and hot pink) suede, which is a velvety, luxurious bag that features an oversized leather heart on its front (the back is two tones of pink and red suede).

This is a gem of a bag and brought to you by the originator of the Initial bags the celebs are wearing and the original of the ones Ebay is featuring in knock-off editions.  Maria Lyons created the original initial bag in August of 2003.  Since then, demand has seen the bags disappear as each one is made. The company’s popularity grew when several celebrities started wearing the customized initial bags. Halle Berry, Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Duff, Nicole Kidman, Demi Moore, Christina Applegate, and Courtney Cox Arquette are just a few of the celebrities that have custom made, hand-crafted Maria Lyons handbags. Maria Lyons is the originator of this line.  Her design philosophy is about individuality and being your own brand.  She has always loved personalized items and did a popular line of custom initial belts in 2001.   She felt that initial handbags were simply the next step.  The duffle bag, the tote, and our signature mini duffle are the most popular items. The best source for these bags is via the online store itself, www.marialyons.com. Demand is high  - with the debut of the bags in August of last year, initial bags all but disappear the moment they are cut and sewn. Each bag is so well made, and thoroughly designed (not to mention the quality of leather used) that even if it was initial and heart-free as part of its ‘hook’, they would be in hot demand.

Thanks to all of you for your nice words on the recent issue, by the way. Most appreciated. March promises to be an eclectic issue that has a nod to St. Pat, and Purim, Shrove Tuesday, and just some recipes I, for one, always wanted to do.

In the meanwhile, here is a bonus recipe to keep you busy. It is not chocolate. It is not even sweet! It is, however, very, very good. May I present, a bonus recipe Chunky Cheese Quiche Muffins.

Chunky Cheese Muffins

These taste like a fresh, golden quiche in a moist and tender (moist and flaky both) muffin package (and shape). These are huge  - like mall muffins and they are packed with good things in a delightful,  savory package. If you want to up their health quota, substitute 2 egg whites for one of the eggs, use white whole wheat flour, and low-fat cheese and throw in 1/4 cup flax seeds, ground up. Use both sharp and medium cheddars, or you can use up whatever leftover cheese hunks you have languishing in your fridge.  If you want these more moist, reduce the flour a tad. If you are up for a big, bold, lunch-in-a-muffin, just make ‘em as is.

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons dry mustard powder (I used 4 actually)
3/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely minced
1/4 cup finely minced red pepper
2 teaspoons finely minced chives
1/2 cup chopped pepperoni or smoked turkey (optional)
1 cup chopped strong cheddar cheese
1 1/3 cups grated medium or mild cheddar (or Swiss)
3/4 cup olive oil (or half melted unsalted butter and oil)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk, approximately

Paprika, melted butter, grated cheese or sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients. Make a well in the center and add in everything else, mixing on slow speed with a paddle or blend by hand to make a thick batter. It should be gloppy – not too thick. If it is thick, add in some more milk. Fold in cheeses and herbs etc.

Using an ice-cream scoop, deposit big scoops of the batter into prepared muffin pans. Place muffin pan on parchment paper lined baking sheet. You should get 8-9 very full muffin cups. You can also just plop a scoop of batter down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet (doubled up).

Brush tops with melted butter or simply sprinkle with sesame seeds or grated cheese.

Bake on upper rack of oven, 22-28 minutes or until muffins are puffed up and set.

Makes 8-9 large muffins. Serve with a green salad and some fresh lemonade.

 

Valentines 2004 Special Edition On Scents and Perfumes, Candles and More

 

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