Sunday, January 13, 2019

Artemisia: Plant of Many Moons

“After the first glass you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” (Oscar Wilde about "The Green Fairy" AKA Absinthe)

Artemisia is a genus of hundreds of species of plants from the compositeae (AKA asteraceae) family. It derives its name from Artemis, the Greek Goddess of the hunt, the woodlands and the moon. In folk medicine, it is considered a feminine plant, with protective powers to guard over witch's gardens, and healing properties especially in relation to the uterus. Hence the connection to Artemis: among the many duties of the virgin Goddess was to assist women in childbirth, and also she is considered the bringer of women ailment and also the one who heals from them.
Overwhelmingly bitter, artemisia is mentioned in the Bible seven times, as a symbol for extreme bitterness and suffering. Artemisia is used to flavour the notorious (and for the longest time, forbidden) Absinthe: due to suspicions about the thujone content being responsible for neurotoxicity and hallucinogenic effects, it was banned in many countries from around 1912-2007 (each country has its own strange relationship with this spirit, and all fingers pointed the blame on the flavouring plant, rather than the unusually high alcohol content, around 70%) . In those who do produce it, the level of artemisia is still often strictly controlled and regulated, despite the fact that scientific data shows that Artemisia absthinthum does not have a dangerous or toxic level of thujone.
Like most members of the compositeae family, it has an intensity that is almost cloying (compare to other species, such as Artemisia dracunculus, AKA tarragon; Artemisia pallens, AKA Davana, immortelle/helicrysum, marigold/tagetes and chamomile) has an intense, cloying medicinal aroma that is overwhelming in large quantities. 
Several closely related species such as A. alba, A. vulgaris, A. absinthium, A. arborescens all have the characteristic bitter flavour and intense aroma, silvery fronds and similar uses. Mugwort or Armoise, which is really the French word for Artemisia - both usually refer to Artemisia vulgaris.  Artemisias have a potent, herbaceous and bitter presence. In very minute quantities, it can have a surprising effect in perfumes, especially when paired with very sweet florals and sweet balsamic bases. Its use in perfume is mainly in Fougère compositions, where it works beautifully with the lavender, oakmoss and coumarin, adding another layer of bitter herbaceous quality.

Artemisia in Magic and Folk Medicine:
Wormwood (Artemisia arborescens) is one of the important monastery herbs, and is found wild in Israel near ancient Crusaders' forts, i.e. the Monforte (a Hospiteral fort by Kziv creek in Israel). Therefore it is believed that the crusaders brought it with them to plant in their own "monastery gardens" by these fortresses. Curiously, it is now one of the fragrant herbs planted in Muslim cemeteries, because it is believed that a good scent would be pleasing to the angels that judge the souls of the deceased.

Artemisia herb-alba is native to the Negev in Israel, and the bedouins in the desert used it as a general antiseptic, vermifuge, and antispasmodic. Also, it was used to treat diabetics, because its intense bitterness was believed to balance the excess of sugar and stimulate the liver and pancreas (much like other bitter herbs, such as germander, sage, etc.).


Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), AKA cronewort is a nerve tonic and a digestive tonic (stimulated bile production), increases menstrual bleeding, and to deal with pulmonary diseases and disturbances.
Mugwort is regarded as a plant with protective powers, and was planted in witch's gardens to guard them - as well as to announce them as medicine women and midwives - either as a plant in the garden, or in a planted pot or even painting on the door of urban witches. Mugwort and lavender are used together in dream pillows to balance their opposing actions of alertness/relaxation. This particular plant has broader leaves that are green on top and have a silvery underside (not all silver like the wormwood or absinthe plants). This silveriness alludes to the connection to the moon, and also wisdom of the crone.


Coastal mugwort (Artemisia suksdorfii) and Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) are used by First Nations in British Columbia (and the West Coast in general) to cleanse and purify the space in smudging ceremonies. It is interesting to note that cedar leaf, which has a very high thujone content, is used in the same manner. It was used as a prevent infections in wounds, for athlete's foot, as a headache remedy, and to stop internal bleeding. A. tridentata has most camphor, terpionoids and tannins, and its smoke was used to tan hides by the Okanagan's first nations people. Another type of mugwort, Coastal Sagebrush, AKA California Sagebrush (A. californica), is used in very similar ways to mugwort (A. vulgaris), to treat respiratory complaints (including coughs, colds and asthma), for pain relief (sprains, reumatism, muscle pain and more), to ease menstrual cramps, and assist during child birth. Its pain relief properties are powerful - applied as a liniment, it is much more effective and safer than opioid painkillers, and can even relief the intense pain from broken bones. 

Chinese medicine uses Moxibustion during acupuncture treatment, in which the practitioner would burn A. moxa as well as A. argyi on top of the needles which warms them up, and is supposed to activate the qi and strengthen the body. It is considered to help improve blood supply to the pelvic area, and also promote fertility. Chinese mugwort (A. argyi) is used by traditional Chinese medicine doctors mostly to treat women - to stop bleeding during mensuration, pregnagney or postpartum; but also to promote mensuration (many types of artemisias are used as emmenagogues). The essential oil is used to treat asthma, coughs and other respiratory issues via spraying at the back of the throat. The essential oil was proven to have antiseptic properties against several bacteria. 

A. apiaceae is another species that grows in China and when dried is used to treat vertigo, cold sweats and high fever. The flowers are used for treating headaches and for joint pain relief.

In Japan, yomogi heating pads filled with Japanese mugwort are used to keep the crotch area warm and cozy (I'm still trying to figure out when would that be actually comfortable), and yomogi water bottles are used for warming the pelvis in general and ease pelvic pain.  
Artemisia in Medicine:
The two main species that have known in the West for their medicinal value are the A. herba-alba (native to North Africa, and also grows wild in the deserts of Israel) and A. arborescens (also grows wild in Israel). Their high santonin content makes them especially effective against intestinal worms. They are also used to treat other digestive complaints such as stomach ache and nauseae, as well as colds, coughs, etc. 
Artemisia arborescens (Sheeba in Arabic) is native to the Mediterranean region and is enjoyed with black tea, especially in the wintertime, throughout North Africa and in Israel. derives its synonym wormwood from its ability to chase away worms from the digestive system. 
A. absinthium is a European artemisia, used in folk medicine to strengthen the body, ease digestion, reduce fever and remove intestinal worms. 
A. annua contains artemisinin, is the current most effective drug to treat Plasmodium falciparum malaria
A. capillaris has sedative-hypnotic effects, some say as strong as that of cannabis. Newer discoveries regarding artemisia show that thujone affects GABA levels and uptake in the brain, and acts very much like THC in cannabis does. 
Artemisia in Food and Flavour:
Artemisia has a strong medicinal flavour, and is mostly drank as a medicinal or warming and energizing winter tea in North Africa and among the Moroccan Jews in Israel. It is also drank as a beneficial tea with the name Yomogi and Ssuk in Japan and Korea respectively.
Kusa mochi (literally means "grass mochi") is a seasonal Japanese pastry for spring, which is flavoured with mugwort (it is softened with baking soda to remove some of the bitterness). Yomogi mochi is a sweet rice pastry flavoured with mugwort and filled with sweet red bean paste. Another type of Japanese pastry featuring mugwort is Hanami Dango, a trio of white, pink and green balls of mochiko served on a sewer, which symbolize the cherry blossom in its green leaf, bud and flower state.
Spirits and Liquors:
Artemisia absthuinthium was used to spice mead in Medieval times. In 18th Centruy England, it was used to make beer much like hops (whose bitterness - or more accurately, the chemicals that are responsible for it - is effective in preventing spoilage of the barley during the fermentation process.

Artemisia is used to flavour various spirits and wines, chief among them being bitters, in which it takes the role of a battering agent; in the bitter liquor pelinkovac (from former Yugoslavia); and is a key ingredient in two important and equally famous alcoholic beverages, which both were used originally for medicinal purposes: absinthe and vermouth. Artemisia absinthium in combination with fennel and aniseed, is used to flavour the green-coloured Absinthe spirit, giving it a distinctive anise flavour. Other elements, such as melissa (lemon balm), angelica, peppermint, coriander, veronica or star anise may also be used. Absinthe is traditionally served diluted with water, which is poured over a sugar cube through an ornate spoon. Once diluted, it takes on a milky appearance (due to the high content of essential oils within the alcohol). Sazerac, New Orleans' famous whiskey cocktail, is delicately flavoured with absinthe, by swishing or spraying the glass with the spirit before serving. I wonder if we'd need to wait a 100 years for the draconian restrictions on oak moss to lift.

Turns out that the dangerous reputation regarding absinthe (hallucinations, violence and seizures) is mostly a myth - and that although thujone can be a neurotoxin in high quantities, none of the absinthe of the past nor present presents such a threat, and the negative effects of "absinthism" are in fact to blame on alcoholism: absinthe was traditionally a very high in alcohol content (68-72%); and unfortunately, not infrequently it as made with poor alcohol contains the toxic methanol, and at times even with a toxic green dye. 

Vermouth began as a German wormwood wine Wermut is German for wormwood, and the word got bastardized as it travelled form Germany to Italy and from there to the rest of Europe and eventually the UK. Aside from wormwood, vermouths may be flavoured with herbs such as marjoram and hyssop, spices such as cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander and ginger; as well as with citrus peel, chamomile, and with juniper and quinine.
Artemisia in Perfumery:
Artemisia herba-alba essential oil is green in colour, and I have not had the honour to smell it in person. Artemisia vulgaris essential oil is a clear yellow mobile liquid, and has an herbaceous, bitter, intense, offensive and aggressive even scent, reminiscent of cedar-leaf and sage. It is also lightly berry-like and musky with woody undertones. Hints of marigold and chamomile undertones as well. Waxy like candle and becomes more sweet and honeyed, floral after a while. Hints of peach stone. Artemisia's green, fresh, herbaceous qualities make it the perfect conspirator in Fougère and Chypre compositions, as well as foresty fragrances. Last but not least - tobacco and leather fragrances, to which it contributes an almost palpable bitterness that creates an illusion of chewing tobacco. It also finds its way into soap fragrances and is also a popular scent for Japanese bath salts and an addition to hot springs "spa". The key to using it is creativity and imagination: Do not use it as a main theme but in combination with other notes, where it will act as an accessory note to create a surprising effect.

I have tinctured fresh leaves of Artemisia arborescens and the result is a very clean, fresh and green aroma which I am now curious to work with both as a flavouring agent (in bitters) and in fragrance compositions.

Here is a very partial list of perfumes that contain artemisia/absinthe:
Bandit
Biche Dans l'Absinthe 

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Artistic Collaboration with Sanaz Mazinani - Exhibit Opens Today!


I'm excited to announce an unusual collaboration with visual artist Sanaz Mazinani, whose exhibit opens today and will feature other senses besides sight. There will be sound and smell as well, and I was chosen to create the latter. Below is more info about the show:  

SANAZ MAZINANI
Light Times
Opening Reception: Saturday, January 12, 2-5pm
Guided Tour of the Exhibition with Sanaz Mazinani: Saturday, January 12, 3pm
Exhibition Dates: January 12 – February 23, 2019

“Light Times” is Sanaz Mazinani's third solo exhibition at Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto. It explores a technical history of photography in an effort to analyse visual language, perception, and the contemporary consumption of images. The studies depart from a set of unique light exposures on photosensitive paper which become the material subjects of each investigation. Throughout the exhibition, the camera-less photographs reappear across different media - unmade, reconstituted and recontextualized as sculpture, scent, sound, or technical print. These physical iterations come together to construct a consideration of the discipline's material capacity to register and document while drawing attention to new realities that form when the recorded information is aestheticised.

Mazinani’s source material is intentionally pre-image, inviting the viewer to focus on the photographic information in the form of simple abstractions made by the artist in the darkroom with light and photographic paper. Her manipulations, and those made in collaboration with technical experts, mimic the strategies of contemporary media circulation: redaction, decontextualisation, and repetition - processes with roots in photography. The works are process driven and utilise a range of methodologies and photographic tools from early photographic history to today. Further investigations offer poetic reflections on loss, time, event, and memory, core to the conceptual dimensions of photography.

“Light Times” looks at the transformation of the three dimensional into the photographic plane, while emphasizing visual shifts that occur through media specificity. The studies work to assemble a map of photographic language, highlighting the processes of photography and situating photograpically captured events, the documentation of the ephemeral/visible, as a relationship to reality created and constructed by the photographer.
Sanaz Mazinani collaborated with Mani Mazinani on Shift, a sound composition that will play from a vinyl record  on a turntable in the gallery formingthe sound component for this exhibition, the Shift LP will be released on Aerophone Recordings in late February. This sound piece addresses the shifts that take place in sight, memory and perception over time and space. Mazinani also worked with perfumer Ayala Moriel to create a unique fragrance ILLUME to conceptually respond to the unique photographic function of registration of light and its simultaneous loss of original meaning. The environmental fragrance ILLUME is a poetic response to the experience of the photographic moment and the function of time’s erasure of that original experience. Furthermore, the artist would like to acknowledge the work and creative labour of the other technicians and artists who used their craft to make a selection of the other pieces in this exhibition, namely Mary Hogan, Mike Robinson, Bob Carnie, Taimaz Moslemian, Noami Dodds, and Jacob Horwood.

An artist and educator, Sanaz Mazinani is based between San Francisco and Toronto. Her work explores how repetition and pattern make information legible, transform seeing into knowing, with the possibility of altering people’s worldview. Working across the disciplines of photography, social sculpture, and large-scale multimedia installations, Mazinani creates informational objects that invite a rethinking of how we see, suspending the viewer between observation and knowledge. Informed by the visual rhetoric and confounding presence of contemporary media circulation, her multidisciplinary practice aims to politicise the proliferation and distribution of images and introduce critical reflection. Mazinani’s works study forms of state control and consider how re-visualizing embedded power structures might interrupt them. In aestheticising informational systems, the artist attempts to contribute to a larger understanding of how conflicting realities are constructed and imagine the communicative possibilities of visual language.

Mazinani holds an undergraduate degree from Ontario College of Art & Design and a master’s degree in fine arts from Stanford University. Her work has appeared in solo exhibitions at institutions including the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and the West Vancouver Museum. She has participated in worldwide exhibitions in institutions such as the Art Museum at the University of Toronto; the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge; the di Rosa Museum, Napa, California; the Fotografie Forum Frankfurt; and the Museum Bärengasse, Zürich. Mazinani’s artwork has been written about in Artforum, artnet News, Border Crossings, Canadian Art, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, among others. Her work was recently featured in Universe: Exploring the Astronomical World published by Phaidon. She was recently awarded the Zellerbach Family Foundation Grant and National Endowment for the Arts grant programs, and her work is held in public collections including the Canada Council Art Bank, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the San Francisco International Airport. She currently teaches in the photography department at the San Francisco Art Institute.



Additional information about ILLUME: 
Ambient fragrance designed to complement and complete “Light Times” - Sanaz Mazinani’s solo exhibition that explores the technical history of photography and its implication on this art form.

ILLUME sheds light on the concept through the sense of smell, which is subconsciously influential in our formation and retrieval of deeply rooted and emotionally charged memories. Being an environmental fragrance and part of an art show makes it public, perhaps even invasive, unlike the intimate and personal memories often elicited by perfume. Therefore, it was important to keep the scent simultaneously vague and familiar. It is immediately noticeable upon entering the space, yet not easily recognizable and identifiable. 
Wherever there is light, there is also shadow. ILLUME explores this interplay of light with the shadows it casts, both in our collective memories and personal ones. The scent is agreeable yet abstract, with disturbing elements hidden in the background. Its design draws on chemical and technical themes such as minerals and acids, to create a reference to the dark room. These dominant acidic and mineral notes are light and sharp, but are only a mask to conceal the dark secrets and hidden memories - embodied with wet, mushroomy woods and smokey notes. Taken outside of their context, these familiar, mundane smells loose their meaning, or perhaps take on a new shape and identity. 

The scent will be "played" during the exhibit and also sold as limited edition room spray for gallery patrons during the time of the show. 

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, December 31, 2018

Year End Review (2018)


The year is coming to a close, and I'm afraid to say I haven't got much to show for it that will knock anyone's socks off. It's really hard to top off the big changes of the last three years: Trans-continental move, building the studio (actually, two of them: Perfume and Pilates), renovating our house, and all the major life changes that go with all of that for me and my daughter, and the business. This year was all about deepening my roots (both figuratively speaking and literally) and nurturing what I've been building and planting here. In the coming year I would really like to plant more in my garden. Trees especially (did you know that if every person on the planet would plant 4 trees this year we'd be able to reverse the damage we've been creating in the last 50 years?).

To be honest, we're still dealing with the aftermath: homesickness, adjustments and getting acclimated to the new environment, so I'm not exactly in the thrill-seeking stage. Everything around us still feels new and strange, even if more comfortable than before. We're still getting used to the new cycles of seasons, different rhythms and customs associated with them and the different holidays here etc. Even though I spent all my childhood here, things are different, very different, from an adult point of view. Additionally, my daughter transitioned to adulthood again (because in Israel people with special needs are considered minors and get full services and free education until they turn 21, not 19 like in Canada). I thought it will be a breeze after all the major changes she went through, but turns out you don't get better with practice in this area of life. The last six months were a roller-coaster getting used to all of that plus a visit in Canada in the middle, which was supposed to make things better but was very emotionally trying for Miss T. She still talks daily about packing all her belongings, and shipping them in a container on a cargo ship and moving to Vancouver (she has the whole route planned and it it's exactly the reverse of the one we made when moving here). Please mom, just reverse what you did two years ago! I'm done with this. She would still tell you she lives in Vancouver, and remembers her exact address and phone number from there. Truly heartbreaking. Thank goodness things are looking up for her now. After graduating from those two bonus high-school years, she's finally settled and doing very well in a protected employment centre just 20 minutes drive from home, and gets paid for doing what she's good at - arts and crafts. It's not a very long day, so I have to find a way to get all of my stuff done in 7hrs workday. Which go by really fast living in a rural area - there are lots of logistics that are way more complicated than in the city, besides chopping wood for heating the house in the winter and tending to the garden and the pets - it also means driving to do errands (for example, the business related ones - going to the post office to send shipments - not a trip down the elevator and across the street like I had in the West End). So in a way I'm still adjusting as well.


So what did happen this year, you wonder? I happily launched two new fragrances, Inbar and Black Heart and revamped Coralle - none of these have received even as much as a single review and I didn't even bother to nominate them to any fragrance awards. I've been too busy with life. I am strangely content with this, even though it's not good for business. I've been just way too busy with life and deeply absorbed in my own creative process. I don't want to live under a rock but I don't want to chase fame either. Those days are far behind me.
<3 a="" heart="" lack="">It was a year of a lot of incense making and experimenting, as well as sharing my incense love with the local audience here in the Galilee in the form of Koh-Doh inspired incense parties/ceremonies that I hold every other month or so. A few workshop with children, which were also a lot of fun (how about educating the next generation of noses?). 
<3 a="" heart="" lack="">And lots of foraging and experimenting with the cornucopia and pharmacopeia of the local flora. I'm blessed to be living near an outdoors medicine cabinet! It is literally just a few steps away from my doorstep, in every direction. 
I've taught three perfume courses this year: Citrus & ColognesChypre and Floral Bouquets - which was the first time this course was taught at all!
I'm happy and grateful that people are interested and willing to travel all the way to Clil to study with me, and will be offering no less than four perfumery courses this coming year:
Fougère (March 24-28, 2019)
Florientals (March 31 - April 4, 2019)
Orientals (November 10-14, 2019)
Leather/Tobacco (November 17-21, 2019)
I'm just on the very last edits of my 3rd correspondence course - Chypre,  so I guess I do have something to show for 2018 after all... I'd also like to focus more on my writing projects and spend less on social media. I think if I've put the energy I spent on writing status updates on completing my new book - or at least blogging instead - I would have felt a lot more accomplished and fulfilled then this endless spurts of info that small indie perfumers such as myself are obliged to maintain in order to stay visible.

Starting January, I will begin a new monthly series of for incense making courses, with a lovely group of local witches. I'm excited to get to know these ladies up close and share what little I know about the world of incense. Honestly, I'm most excited simply about the opportunity to get deeper into incense and try to master it or at least study it more methodically.

Last but not least: I'm also just about to hand in my contribution to an art installation in Toronto that will open in January 12th. It's a collaboration with the visual artist, and I am very excited to be part of this and to have my creation treated as art and not just a commodity. Stay tuned!

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas! عيد ميلاد سعيد 


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas in the Middle East

Despite globalization and Santa's great commercial success (and global take over) - Christmas in the Middle East (where it originated, let me remind you) has very different vibe than in Europe and North America. That's not to say that Santa and his reindeer do not make appearances here despite the alarming lack of snow (and sometimes no rainfall either). But it looks, sounds and smells different here, nevertheless.

Last week we went to the Christmas Market in Kfar Yassif (one of the largest Christian communities north of Haifa), with full-on expectations to have my Canadian standards of Christmas markets to be blown to bits. And to my delight, they did. First there is the reckless parking culture of the villages up north (parking is always a conundrum in big events, but we survived it quite heroically), and then there is the winter atmosphere of an Arab-Christian village in wintertime: lights everywhere, little children carrying light toys they purchased at the market, and street vendors selling boiled lupin and fava beans doused with cumin and lemon-salt (Middle Eastern street food is quite healthy), and sahleb (a warm, thickened milk beverage perfumed with rosewater, mastic resin and topped with spices and nuts).

Before you get into the market, you'll have security at the entrance (because any event of large crowds, especially that of a minority group, requires security in Israel, to remind you that something bad could happen at any moment but the army and police is there to protect you). And then there was lively and upbeat music - dumbak drums on the stage were performing Baladi beats by the town's square and the largest Christmas tree, later on succeeded by other performances such as a Middle Eastern violin musician, and more. And this pre-Christmas party was going to last till at least midnight, by the way. Proceeding to the market area, an overwhelming smell of barbecue filled the air - thick smoke of charcoals grilling meats of any kind (except perhaps turkey), including shrimps skewers. There were shawarma (aka donair) and felafel booths, and I think I've spotted some ma'amouls (fragrant and buttery semolina shortbread cookies filled with dates or nuts). There was absolutely none of the "Holiday Smells" such as eggnog or hot apple cider etc.


We circumvented the very crowded lineups and that's were we found the artisan stalls (there is a lovely new carpenter/woodworker in town that sold the most adorable ornaments, carved out of olive tree, some shaped like little guitars or oud - the musical instrument, not the incense tree); charity sales, and also those selling German-style mulled wine and green and red donuts (that look like they're made of plastic so of course we didn't eat them), and even something that looked like Japanese-style octopus pancakes next to stalls of chocolate syringes for chocaholics shooting up during Midnight Mass.

And speaking of mass - religious artifacts were offered as well lots and lots of incense was burnt. I don't think I've ever been to a Christmas market in Canada where frankincense and myrrh is openly burnt in cross-bearing copper censers! And keeping up with the syringe theme, there was the customary street-perfume-vendor stall, where perfume knock-off were sold out of large vats that make them give the illusion of precious cargo. The lady at that stall was advertising her wares by squirting cheap jus out of a large syringe (that is normally used to decant her merchandize into bottles for sale).

Around that time, we figured it would be a good moment to call it a night and go home with the loot we found - a little crocheted doily made by the local employment centre for adults with special needs, a bit clear helium bubble wrapped in lights, and the cheesiest Christmasy tiered tea tray, which for two years I've managed to avoid purchasing and always regretting I didn't...

And with this we'll close, but not before I'll give you recipes for a couple of regional sweets that are unique to the region around these holidays:

Ma'amoul Cookies Recipe
Ma'amoul
Ma'amoul are stuffed shortbread cookies from unsweetened dough, stuffed with dates or slightly sweetened nut fillings. The cookies originate in Jerusalem, but are popular all over the Middle East and each region has slightly different variation on the spices and dough recipe. For example: The nut fillings are usually walnut, but in Syria, where pistachios are abundant this is also a very popular and very elegant filling. The dough may be made from either fine semolina (cream of wheat), or from flour, or a mixture of both. Of course, the semolina ones are the best! They provide a rich, nutty and interesting texture to the cookie. In the Galilee, ma'amoul cookie dough is often flavoured with malepi (black cherry kernels), which give them a peculiar, inimitable aroma that goes especially well with the date filling (which, in turn, is likely to be spiced with cinnamon and cloves rather than the  nutmeg in the recipe to follow).

The ma'amouls are shaped in multiple ways, in order to be able to differentiate between different stuffings. The shapes can also have other religious meanings, especially in the Christian communities - where this was originally an Easter pastry. The round ones are stuffed with dates, and signify the crown of thorns and Christ's suffering, and and the nut filled ma'amouls are oval-shaped, and said to symbolize Jesus' tomb.

The following recipe is adapted from May S. Bsisu's excellent book The Arab Table, p. 303-304; and some improvements based on Dokhol Safadi and Michal Waxman's book "Baladi: Four Seasons and Nazareth" (in Hebrew), p. 288-289. Naturally, I've added my own perfumey touch to the filling flavours and also my tips from many hours of rolling ma'amoul cookies with my adopted Syrian family.

Aside from the usual kitchen and baking equipment (large mixing bowl, chopping board, knife and large cookie sheets and baking paper), you'll also need one special piece of equipment, which is very easy to find in the Middle East but not so easy to come by outside of it: little metal clips that are made especially for pinching the decorations and marking the ma'amoul. Some books will also recommend specialty cookie molds. These are very pretty and make for great (and impressive) kitchen decoration, but I found them to be way more difficult to work with (the cookies get stuck in the molds).

But most importantly - this is not a task for one person. It is best to make ma'amoul (or any large amounts of hand-shaped pastries, especially stuffed ones) with company. I sometimes wonder if it's not the cooking together rather than the eating together that keeps people together.

Semolina dough: 
4 cups fine semolina from Durum wheat, or regular sized semolina (AKA cream of wheat)
1.5 cups (3 sticks, or 375g)  unsalted butter, melted 
0.25 cup orange flower water
0.25 cup rosewater
0.5 cup unbleached all-purpose wheat flour 
1 tsp freshly ground malepi (optional)

- Melt the butter and add the floral waters. 
- Stir in the semolina until a dough is formed.
- Place in the fridge overnight, in order for the semolina to absorb all the moisture. 
- The next day, mix the flour with the ground malepi (if desired). 
- Knead the semolina dough with the flour mixture
- Roll into small balls (about the size of a golf-ball) and flatten them between your index finger and thumb. Place a small but significant amount of filling (about 1tsp) and close the dough in (it will look like a money pouch where all the dough gathers, this is the place you will place on the pan. The top will get the metal clips treatment, with decorations as imaginative as yourself. 
- Bake in pre-heated oven (to 350F or 180c) for about 15min, or until slightly golden on the bottom. 
- Let the cookies cool on a wire rack. Once cooled completely, sprinkle icing sugar on top. Keep as many as you're planning to eat within 2-3 days in a jar, so they don't turn stale. The rest are best to keep frozen. They will taste fresh once thawed again. 

Date filling:
1lb pitted and mashed dates (see note below)
1.5 Tbs unsalted butter
 1Tbs rosewater
1/4tsp grated nutmeg
* If you can't find pre-mashed dates, finely chop Barhi dates - the ones that are sold in small carton boxes and often mistakenly referred to as "fresh dates" in Persian and other Middle Eastern shops). If using pre-mashed dates (in vacuums package) be sure to remove any calyx or stem or occasional pit that were left behind).

Walnut filling:
2 cups walnuts
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbs orange flower water
1 tsp cinnamon, ground 

Pistachio & Orange Blossom (Ma'amoul filling)

Pistachio filling:
0.75 cups raw pistachios (unshelled)
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbs orange flower water
0.5 tsp cardamom, freshly ground 

Stay tuned for additional Middle Eastern Christmas specialty from my region, including Pumpkin Jam!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Vanilla Is The New Silver


Vanilla is synonymous with the aroma of pastry baking as well as pleasing the common taste of the masses. It is the most popular ice cream flavour in the world, and is what makes Shalimar and a myriad of other Oriental-Ambery fragrances so beloved. But vanilla as a spice or flavouring has not always been associated with sweetness. The Aztecs steeped their sacred cacao beverages with vanilla and chilli, and the savoury is practiced in contemporary Mexican cuisine. Due to climate change and natural disasters in Madagascar, the country that is responsible for the majority of the world's production, we may not be able to enjoy vanilla ice cream as often as we are accustomed to. At least not with pure vanilla beans.

The term "Plain Vanilla" is the simplest, most basic form of things, lacking innovation or pizzazz in its design or characteristics. "Vanilla Software" is code that is so generic it can be potentially sold to any client, but at the same time be rather unsatisfactory because the customization hasn't been put in place yet. "Vanilla Sex" is a rather judgemental term for conventional sex, alluding to the persons preferring it being unadventurous, unimaginative, and generally boring. 

True vanilla extract, however, is anything but boring! 

Up until the 15th Centruy, vanilla was closely guarded by the Totonac people - first people of Mexico. In the mid 1400s, they were conquered by the Aztec and used vanilla fruits to pay them. The Aztecs adopted "Tlilxochitl"and incorporated it into their ceremonial cacao libation (along with masa harina). In 1520, Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztecs and was greeted with this beverage. He took with him to Europe many of the botanical treasures he found, including cacao, vanilla beans, tomatoes and chilli peppers. It was not until about 300 years later though, that vanilla would produce any fruit - which happened in one of the French colonies in the Rénunion. But more on that later. 
The name vanilla originates from vainilla - a dimuniative for "vaina" (from the Latin word "vagina", meaning "sheath"). So "a little sheath" because of the shape of the vanilla fruit (or seed pods), which looked like a tiny sheath for placing a sword or a dagger. 

Botanical name(s): Vanilla planifolia

Synonyms: Vanilla fragrans, Common Vanilla, Mexican vanilla, Bourbon vanilla, Reunion vanilla, Madagascar Vanilla.

Other species of vanilla: Vanilla pompona (AKA West Indian Vanilla), which is grown in the West Indies, Central and South America. This variety is less known commercially. 

Vanilla tahitinesis (Tahitian Vanilla), which grows in the South Pacific (cultivated in French Polynesia), is possibly a hybrid between V. planifolia and V. odorata. It is speculated that it originated in Guatemala, and arrived in the Philipinnes by the Manilla galleon, and finally brought to Tahiti by the French admiral François Alphonse Hamelin. This vanilla species has a distinctively different aroma, more floral and less woody-animalic than the V. planifolia, and with a very sweet-pastry-powdery presence, reminiscent of heliotrope.

Most of the world's production (about 80%) of vanilla beans is in the island of Madagascar, off the southeast coast off Africa (the closest neighbouring country on the continent is Mozambique). In March 2017, the cyclone Enawo struck the island of Madagascar, damaging two of the largest vanilla-growing regions in the country. Because ripe and cured vanilla beans are such labour-intensive to produce, as you will shortly discover; and because new crops begin to bloom and produce fruit only when mature (which takes between 3-4 years), this cyclone has a global effect on the availability and price of vanilla. In 2018, vanilla prices have risen to 30-fold their price comparing to 2013 ($600 vs. $20 per kilo), which is more than the cost of silver! Prices have began to decline but are still prohibitively expensive, to the point that many ice cream producers are taking their vanilla-ice-creams off the menu or replacing it with artificially flavoured ones. As a result of this astronomical hike in price, crime has gone rampant in Madagascar, with the crops that remain stolen and vanilla farmers living in constant fear for their livelihood. Some measures have been taken, such as stamping each vanilla bean with the farm's serial code. But in reality, this hike has done more damage to the producers than any good (and of course the pastry chefs and natural perfumers aren't enjoying it either). Despite the grim predictions in 2017 that vanilla bean production (and prices) will be problematic for about seven years, and forecast now seems more optimistic. Additionally, more countries who can and have grown vanilla (some in Africa, such as Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameron, and Nigeria; and India and Indonesia in Asia; and even Mexico) - are taking advantage of this gap and finding new markets. This is hopefully solving a problem that is not to blame on this one cyclone only. In reality, Madagascar's monopoly on vanilla was threatened by other poor crops since 2014. And it has for many years been a goldmine for various opportunists who use vanilla as a money-laundering channel, for example: illegal Madagascan rosewood traders would dispose of their cash by purchasing vanilla beans, a commodity in much demand that can easily be sold to about a dozen of intermediaries who distribute it world-wide. 
However, this cyclone's stark results has forced the world to take a closer look at the corruption surrounding the vanilla trade (as well as other commodities, such as cacao and coffee beans), and take more responsibility over how its done. It is a tragically ridiculous situation, when crops get such high prices and the communities who farm them are still living in extreme poverty and are increasingly threatened by crime.
Vanilla is a climbing orchid native to Mexico and Central America, and is the only orchid whose extract is used for its fragrance in perfumery (other "orchid" fragrances are usually manmade compounds, either imaginary or "fantasy" floral formulas, or based on real-life by using headspace technology - which recreates the scent the flower emits from synthetic molecules). Vanilla grows like a vine and needs to climb on a structure to come to its full potential of flowers and fruit. It may appear to be a parasite, because it supports itself on tree trucks with tiny and very strong hooks - but in fact it does not rely on the tree for nourishment, which it derives honestly from the soil and sun.  
Vanilla flowers are greenish-yellow in colour, with a diameter of 5 cm (2 in). The bloom only for a day, providing a very short window for pollination in the morning hours, in order for them to bear fruit. In their natural habitat in Mexico, the flowers are pollinated by the Mellipona bee - a tiny insect with very long trunks, who transfer the pollen from one part of the flowers to another (the anther to the stigma). The insect provide only a 1% pollination rate among the flowers - the remaining 99% drop to the ground the next day. This scientific discovery was made in 1836 by the Belgian botanist Charles Morren. He also tried, to develop a pollination alternative that will make vanilla a commercially-viable crop, but to no avail. His technique was too cumbersome. 

In commercially grown vanilla, the flowers need to be hand-pollinated even in its native country - because one cannot count on minuscule bees to do all the pollination and let the rare flowers go to waste. The technique for hand-pollination was developed in 1841 by Edmond Albius, a slave boy in the Réunion. He was only 12 years old at a time, and found a simple and quick solution using a blade of grass and his thumb to do the job. He remained a slave until 1848, when the French laws were changed and banned slavery. His ingenuity and contribution to the cultivation of vanilla (and as a result to perfumery and flavouring, and the entire world of pastry) was recognized and even gave him clemency after being five years in prison (to which he was sentenced after being caught stealing jewellery in his new job as a kitchen servant). However, he did not receive enough recognition and died in poverty at the age of 51.

The fruit grows only in plants that reached maturity and are over 3 m long. The fruit looks similar to tiny bananas or green string beans - but are not beans at all. They would mature on the plant only after 8-9 months of growth, but are picked at 5 when still green, and undergo a curing process that was learned from the First Nations of Mexico. Although vanilla curing methods around the world vary, they all contain several steps, which essentially are:

Killing: Stopping the plant's growth and encouraging the beginning of enzymatic action. Various methods are used, including heating in water, freezing and scratching - each of these produces slightly different aroma profile as it puts different enzymes to work. 

Sweating: hydrolytic and oxidative process in which the fruit is kept tightly packed and insulated as to keep the temperatures at around 45-65 degrees celsius. In order to do so, the fruit may be dipped in hot water or exposed to the sun. By the end of the sweating process (which is really a type of fermentation), the beans will gain the characteristic brown colour, but will still be too moist (about 60-70% water).  This process takes between 7-10 days. 

Drying: In the drying process, the beans will lose moisture down to only 25-30% of their weight. This process helps preserve the vanilla beans' aroma, and prevent them from spoilage. This process is the most sensitive, in which much of the vanillin can get lost from uneven drying. To prevent this, extra care is taken and the beans are constantly monitored for changes needed in their environment - they are moved from sun to shade, and being exposed to the air in various ways to ensure their quality remains consistent. This process may take several weeks. 

Conditioning: After all this process, the beans need to be stored for additional 5-6 months in closed boxes, and this is where they develop their final fragrance and aroma. Good beans should have about 2.5% vanillin content. 

Grading: Once ready, the beans are graded, sorted, bundled and wrapped to preserve their qualities. Grading systems vary, and include attention to the beans length, thickness, appearance (colour, sheen,  pliability which shows moisture content, blemishes, etc.). The highest grades are kept whole. The beans with blemishes or "defects" are treated to remove those visible, or if they are too dry they are saved for preparations in which appearance is not as important - i.e.: vanilla extract, vanilla paste. In fact, the drier vanilla beans are far more suitable for tincturing (producing vanilla extract), as they don't have water content to weaken the alcohol's solvent powers. 

Vanillin Crystals
Constituents: 1.3-2.9% vanillin, hydroxybenzaldehyde, acetic acid, acetaldehyde, isobutyric acid, caprice acid, eugenol, furfural, hexanoic acid, 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde, methyl cinnamate plus over 150 more molecules in trace amounts. Tahitian vanilla (Vanilla tahitinesis) would have a different chemical structure, much lower in vanillin. 

Vanillin (4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde) is a perhaps the most important component which gives cured vanilla and its product the characteristic flavor and aroma. Vanillin was first isolated from vanilla pods by Gobley in 1858. By 1874, it had been obtained from glycosides of pine tree sap, temporarily causing a drop in prices of natural vanilla. Vanillin can be easily synthesized from several sources, but most food-grade vanillin (which must be > 99% pure) is made of guaiacol - usually created by the pyrolysis of lignin (a by-product of the paper industry). 

Physical appearance & characteristics: Thick, dark brown, viscous liquid with vanillin crystals often forming, particularly in cooler temperatures. Powdery granular white particles typically float inside the dark fluid, but as the temperatures drop, it will become increasingly difficult to pour and white “needles” of the vanillin crystals will form inside the “empty” part of the container. In this scenario, a bain-marie is recommended to return the vanilla absolute to its pourable and more workable state. 

Odour description: Sweet memories of licking vanilla ice cream, discovering vanilla extract at my grandmother’s kitchen, baking cheesecake and other grandmotherly associations, scraping vanilla beans. Vanilla has a balsamic, rich aroma with a woody hint, very strong (it behaves like 5 fold its actual presence) - a little goes a long way. 

Volatility rate: Base note and a fixative 

Note Vanilee (Vanilla Notes)

Roles in perfumery: Fits with everything, as long as it’s not overdone - in which case it will dominate! Remember, every time you're adding vanilla, imagine you're adding 5 times the actual amount. Vanilla absolute is a key component in amber bases, ambreine accord, Ambery Orientals, in flavouring tobacco and giving tobacco fragrances their characteristic deep-sweet nuance. In Fougère vanilla absolute proves very useful in smoothing out the rough edges of all the herbaceous notes, and sweetening the bitterness of the oakmoss and coumarin notes. 


Vanilla in Flavour: Vanilla is the world's most popular ice cream flavour, and is used in the confectionary world almost in the same way salt is used in the savoury one. 

Perfumery Uses/Blending Tips:
Vanilla goes with everything, but in particularly shines when paired with tonka beans, orris butter, leather notes, sandalwood, rose, frankincense, galbanum absolute, labdanum, styrax, bergamot, yang ylang, tuberose, tobacco, mandarin, sweet orange, blood orange, vetiver, oakmoss, patchouli and lavender (so no wonder it’s included in Fougère course). 

Vanilla may seem tame and agreeable, but in fact it fortifies itself overtime and can take over a blend. Keep in mind that whichever amount you put is equivalent to 5x vanilla. Which is a good thing - because vanilla is a very popular and costly material. If you find vanilla overbearing even in its tiniest amounts, consider using vanilla tincture instead, from the cured vanilla pods. Recipe for doing so appears in my book (formula 10.1.4). 







Examples: Shalimar (Guerlain), L (Lolita Lempicka), Immortelle l’Amour and Espionage (Ayala Moriel)

Formula 10.1.4 Vanilla Tincture 
36 g Vanilla Pods (about 16-18 pods)
100 mL Alcohol
Split the pods lengthwise and scrape the “seeds.” Finely chop the pods. Put in a jar and cover with alcohol. Shake frequently. Ready for filtering after a minimum of 1 month.
This is more concentrated than vanilla extract used in cooking and baking, but less concentrated than a 50% dilution of vanilla absolute, so it can give a nice, subtle woody-vanilla effect without being overpoweringly sweet.




Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,