Fall: 82 posts

Some fragrances that feel autumnal to me

Cranberry Mors : Ruby Red Drink

I love the bold acidity of cranberries. Sometimes when I cook with them, I keep a few berries aside to eat raw and their combination of bitterness and tartness always takes me by surprise. Yet, if I wait a moment, I taste a floral sweetness, with a hint of red currant. When I make something with cranberries, I select simple recipes that allow these facets to shine, and more of often than not, I return to my grandmother’s recipe for cranberry mors, a fruit drink.

Mors is the whole world of Russian fruit beverages made with strawberries, currants, gooseberries, blueberries or cloudberries, those unique berries with a taste of cardamom that grow in the northern lands. My paternal grandmother Daria was born in the region of Russia edged in between Ukraine and Belarus, and she remembered going to the forest to pick berries and prepare enough mors to last the family of 12 through the winter.

The traditional method to make cranberry mors was to cover berries with water and leave them to ferment naturally. However, when Daria moved to Ukraine and settled in Kyiv, the capital city, she began to make mors differently, by cooking the berries. Daria’s recipe was simple, but it was ingenious in the way it preserved vitamins and freshness.

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Paris Autumn Walks : The Basilica of Saint Denis

If I made a map of my favorite walks in Paris, the routes would invariably lead to an old church, a cemetery, a café or a market. They would circumvent the glamorous Paris of the tourist brochures and explore the places where the ancient and the modern city coexist, where the mysteries linger, and where one can satisfy one’s hunger, literal and figurative. Paris is often associated with spring, romance and blossoming, but my Paris is autumn, fallen leaves and the light streaming through the stained glass windows.

The Basilica of Saint Denis, Basilique royale de Saint-Denis, is one of those large French Gothic churches that to a non-expert eye are hard to tell apart. Even the fact that it has only one tower instead of the usual two can get lost as one contemplates its imposing size. Yet, the space inside the basilica is so elegant with its slender windows, graceful columns and candlelight filled enfilades that I’d take a stroll here over visiting Notre-Dame. It’s worth a metro ride to Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris that manages to be both bland and seedy. My Paris explorations often end up here.

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French Fig Jam

Jam has become such an industrial, mass-produced product that it might be hard to imagine making it at home. This is not the case in France–or much of Europe, for that matter. When I visited my friend on her farm in Burgundy, we drove around for hours only to discover that all of the stores were out of preserving supplies. We ended up ordering a case of jars from an online shop, because the figs were ripening fast.

My friend follows a recipe that has been in her family for several generations. We cut figs into quarters and weigh them to determine the amount of sugar. It’s 2 parts fruit to 1 part sugar. Figs are sweet, so we add lemon juice. As their juices melt into sugar, the syrup becomes pink, then purple, then burgundy, like the famous wines of the region. The green perfume of figs transforms as they cook. The fragrance of natural coumarin in their peel, the aromatic that smells of toasted almonds and cherries, becomes more pronounced and richer. The lemon zest gives the fig jam a twist reminiscent of Shalimar.

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My Selection of 10 Fragrances for Fall

I always look to that moment when leaves start to fall; the air is filled with a mellow sweetness reminiscent of walnut shelves and faded leather. It makes me want to write poetry, find patterns in the intertwined bare branches, watch bittersweet Japanese films and contemplate the beauty of morning light. Such impulses tend to break against the shoals of my routine, but even so, I enjoy the autumnal moods and the element of fantasy.

I did, however, do some translations of Persian poetry, as I shared in my October Newsletter.

And indeed, fantasy and pleasure are the only criteria guiding my selection of perfumes for this fall. My list has room on it for different themes for different moods and for new favorites as well as beloved staples.

L’Artisan Parfumeur Mont de Narcisse

Some years ago, L’Artisan Parfumeur had a collection of so-called grand cru fragrances inspired by the best grades of orange blossom, iris and narcissus. Narcissus was the most intriguing, because smelling this note interpreted as a complete perfume, rather than an accent, made me realize how close narcissus is to leather and woods. The same theme returns this year with Mont de Narcisse. It’s signed by Anne Flipo, the same perfumer responsible for the long-vanished grand cru, but the idea is more complex. And more interesting, I should say. Narcissus is accented with cardamom and osmanthus, another floral note that inches close to leather, to make a multifaceted, elegant scent.

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Fall Reading : Odyssey, Celestial Bodies and Obsessions

Autumn can be described as “golden,” “melancholy” or “rainy,” but I like the Japanese epithet of autumn as “the season for reading,” dokusho no aki. There is something particularly inviting about the image of sitting down with a book and a steaming cup of tea on a rainy day. Or I like to take a favorite book of poetry to a park and read a few stanzas as I wade through the fallen leaves. This fall, however, I’ll more likely be reading at train stations and airports as I have several trips lined up. Whatever the circumstances, I made a list of books to read. For the Bois de Jasmin fall reading list, on the other hand, I want to share the books I’ve read and enjoyed. As always, I look forward to your lists and recommendations.

Homer, The Odyssey

I’ve decided to re-read The Odyssey after I finished Mary Beard’s Civilisations: How Do We Look/The Eye of Faith. Beard observes that certain works of literature influenced our culture to such a great extent that we take it for granted. Two of the most important books in the history of Western literature, as well as the oldest, are Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey. I’ve selected The Odyssey, because it was my favorite when I was a student, and the copy we had at home was a French translation by Leconte Lisle circa 1860’s. It’s a translation in prose, but I found it beautiful and suspenseful.

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