Miraculous Olive Oil

The legendary oil that fueled the original Hanukkah miracle, burning brightly for eight days on end, was most certainly olive oil. Capable of wonders both big and small, historically and still to this day, it’s an indispensable staple that’s saved me from all variety of culinary plights. Just as the biblical story exhorts, a little bit of extra virgin olive oil goes a long way.

Why is this the obvious, and only rational choice? While it doesn’t last forever, kept in a dark and cool place, tightly sealed bottles will stay just as fresh for up to a year and a half without any preservatives, high-pressure canning practices, or refrigeration. Plus, it can handle the heat. Contrary to popular belief, extra virgin olive oil does indeed have a high smoke point (400° F), so it can handle anything from a light sauté to a deep (and deeply flavorful) fry. You can bake with olive oil, as well.

Extra virgin olive oil is made by sheer force, extracted by pressure without heat or chemicals. It represents quality you can taste. Virtually free of acidity(below 0.8%,) each oil is judged by experts, who must agree that it meets the high flavor standards to bear the official designation of “extra virgin.” Each bottle that makes the grade must exhibit the presence of nuanced fruity, bitter, and spicy notes, in every bold drop. If these signature components aren’t all in perfect, harmonious balance, it won’t receive the esteemed rating, and you’ll never suffer the injustice of a subpar specimen.

European extra virgin olive oil in particular is held to some of the highest standards. The olive tree has been revered in Europe since antiquity. Over thousands of years, farmers have evolved hundreds of cultivars and optimized them for different environment conditions and terrains to produce the most flavorful yields.

Beyond its legendary piquancy, aroma, and zest, extra virgin olive oil can literally shed a light on the darkness of a largely overlooked holiday practice. The fabled tale of the Hanukkah miracle is more than just mythology, after all. Even without a fancy vessel or ornamental candles, my menorah burns as brightly as ever this year, powered by oil alone. If you have wicks and olive oil, you can make one from scratch in a matter of minutes, too!

Just make sure you save a little drizzle for dessert. While balsamic vinegar often gets all the attention as an unconventional ice cream topper, lending a savory, tangy twist to the usual old frosty scoop, I happen to love the richness that this golden-green elixir adds instead. Vanilla would be most traditional, but what’s to say it doesn’t pair just as well with a luscious spoonful of giandua (hazelnut-chocolate) ice cream, melting luxuriously to mingle with the oil itself?

Quality staples are worthy of a celebration everyday, but especially for the holidays, splurging on really good extra virgin olive oil will taste like a little miracle in every dish.

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A Dying Art

After the garish plastic skeletons of Halloween are cleared away, something far more haunting, yet entirely joyous remains in their wake. Sugar skulls, glittering sweet crystals dried into the shape of a human head, shine in the dark of night to honor the dearly departed on Día de los Muertos.

When the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31st, deceased loved ones can return and spend the day with their families, drawn to the calavera made in their likeness. Decorated with colored icing, the most basic are technically ghoulish sugar cubes, super-sized for a couple gallons of coffee, but not exactly something you’d want to consume. Most artists incorporate inedible media like feathers, glitter, sequins, foil, and fabric, treating them more like sculpture than food, since there’s no such thing as too colorful nor too flamboyant to match the most vivacious personalities.

Traditionally, the “glue” that binds these sweet offerings together is either egg white or meringue powder, but for a simple veganization, this is another job for aquafaba. Just because you don’t eat it, doesn’t mean you can’t make it cruelty-free, too.

Contrary to the name itself, Día de Muertos is a truly celebration of life. Why not make it a sweet occasion with these sugary monuments, recalling the spirits of those no longer with us?

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Squeeze the Day

Limoncello is not any old fruit liqueur; it’s straight-up sunshine in a bottle. Liquid gold, simultaneously tart, tangy, smooth, and sweet, is so much more than the sum of its parts. Three simple, common ingredients are all you need, aside from the intangible addition of time. More patience is needed than anything else, as the infusion grows stronger, more fragrant, more colorful by the day. Though the temptation may feel irresistible at times, summon all your willpower to keep a lid on it, literally.

Intense citrus flavor allows this elixir to mix beautifully with other spirits or sparkling beverages without ever risking dilution. Traditionally enjoyed as a digestif, a simple shot can be equally restorative, waking up the senses with such a boldly fragrant, vivacious lemon essence.

Needless to say, every ingredient counts when so few make the cut. Do not skimp on lesser citrus especially, as none can match the delicate nuances and almost jammy sweetness of Meyer lemons, which come without the harsh acidity of conventional varieties. Likewise, this is the time to break out the good stuff from your secret stash at the back of the liquor cabinet. It’s impossible to end up with unpalatable Limoncello, truth be told, but it’s just as effortless to create something truly unparalleled in quality.

Though the wait time may seem daunting, don’t let that scare you off. The results are worth any delayed gratification, as no store-bought variety will ever taste as fresh.

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Raining Cats and Dogs

Dear Luka,

I know how you hate the rainy season in the Bay Area.  Maybe this new raincoat will help.  It is truly one-of-a-kind, made using Simplicity pattern #1239, with a few changes.  Instead of lining the coat as directed, I covered all cut edges with seam binding.  I also made the hood detachable, and ignored the scarf (like you would wear the scarf and not chew it to shreds instantly!)

Handmade Dog Raincoat

When you and your Mom go walking around your neighborhood, be friendly if anyone comes to compliment your coat, wear it proudly, and most important of all, stop eating random poop off the sidewalk!

Love,

Grandma

Bare Essentials

This blog post is sponsored by iHerb but as always, the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

Essentially, the freshest new obsessions in ancient wellness trends are essential oils.

Distilled from the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits, essential oils are the most concentrated expression of individual plants available through natural means, which makes them incredibly potent and effective for therapeutic uses. It doesn’t take a medical degree to reap the benefits, though! Aura Cacia makes these powerful extracts accessible to everyone, offering well over one hundred single origin essential oils and dozens of different blends. Previously overlooked or simply unavailable in small health food shops, iHerb is delivering the largest selection of these indispensable ingredients around.

Based in California but reaching customers in over 150 countries all around the world, iHerb boasts over 30,000 brand name natural products, guaranteed at the highest quality and lowest prices possible. Free or discounted shipping ensures that your oils will arrive on time for even the most urgent needs or ailments; no need to suffer from both an unfortunate malady and the offense of an interminable wait. Additionally, do I have to remind you that all this shopping can be done from the comfort of your own home, without going on a mad goose chase trying to hunt down obscure pieces to complete your wellness puzzle?

Aura Cacia oils promise the highest standards of quality. You’ll never find synthetic fragrances, fillers, artificial colors or stabilizers in any of their products. Only 100% pure essential oils make the cut.

Starting from truly the bare essentials, uses for these powerhouse oils are endless. Take a peek into my kitchen and you’ll undoubtedly find an impressive array of those tiny glass bottles standing tall, but perhaps not in the way you might imagine for someone as food-focused as myself.

Not only do citrus oils infuse everything they touch with a bright, clean, uplifting scent, but they’re also powerhouse grease busters. Natural antibacterial and antiviral properties make everything from lemon, tangerine, grapefruit, sweet orange, and all the sunny shades of warm yellow in between ideal candidates for chemical-free cleaning. My very favorite Citrus Symphony Dish Scrub is made of little more than baking soda and essential oils. Sometimes I’ll switch up the routine and inject a new bright scent with ginger or lemongrass, which are both excellent for soothing nausea, in case the aroma of your splattered, stained, and crusty dishes becomes overwhelming.

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Glass Act

After so many years of looking inward in search of that “new you for the new year,” can we all agree that what we really need to change is the same tired routine? Could it be that such deep personal dissatisfaction is simply a side effect of boredom, of time wasted on the couch instead of living life? Shake it up, get out there, and do something radically different this time around! I’m all about making 2019 my year of adventure, starting with a little help from IfOnly. Curating singular experiences with talented luminaries in cities across the US, this is not just another Groupon or Living Social app. You can have Alice Waters cook a private meal for you in your own home, go paragliding over the whole bay area, or even book a hot air balloon excursion over Mount Everest. Starting a bit closer to home, I’m still just testing the waters before I jump in head-first on a scuba diving adventure, instead homing in on the wide range of hands-on art opportunities nearby. Sure, painting and sewing are easy enough to pick up, but glass work is considerably less accessible.

Enter: Lynn Rovelstad, offering curious crafters an opportunity to get up close and personal with a kaleidoscope of custom glass projects. Rather than a standard drop-in to dabble with scraps, this booking gets you a private tutorial with the glass master herself, for an intimate afternoon for two or a party of twelve.

Whereas blown glass is difficult, hot, and potentially very dangerous, fused glass is easy, safe, and fun for all ages. In fact, children as young as 18 months have gotten in on the act, but 3 years old is the generally recommended minimum. The biggest hazard to participants are possible glass splinters, though even that risk is quite rare.

Fragments of colored glass are adhered to solid white, black, or clear glass base with plain old nontoxic Elmer’s glue gel. The process is very much reminiscent of mosaic making, with the bigger picture slowly revealing itself through each subsequent shard. Placement becomes permanent only after a day or two in the 1500-degree kiln. Edges are rounded, surfaces smoothed, and your work of art transforms into a solid, single piece. It’s akin to modern magic, although in the case of my one-of-a-kind serving utensil set, much more practical alchemy.

In one afternoon, I managed to go outside my comfort zone to explore a new part of the bay area, meet an inspiring artisan, spend time with a good friend, AND craft a completely unique salad serving set, barbecue fork, bread knife, and cake server. While it may not be as bold as flying a jet plane at mach speed, it was the exhilarating change of pace I needed to get out of my crafting rut and try something new.

Join me: Don’t just make resolutions for 2019, but make something real. Start crossing activities of your bucket list instead of adding them, for once. Get $50 off your first booking on IfOnly with the discount code “Kaminsky50” until 3/31/19.