Back to Beauty and Cheese
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Happy Gemini season! We’re dropping into your inboxes this morning with a letter going back to our roots—Taylore on the fragrance beat and Christine on cheese. It’s easy reading, meant to pair perfectly with your oat milk latte and sleepy Sunday morning. Think of us as the coffee cake of newsletters.
Part I: On Cheese Partying
CC: Alright, let’s talk cheese! I was in LA last week and put together a little cheese spread for my best friend from college and her roommates, so cheese entertaining is on my mind.
The great thing about being the party cheese-bringer is that you get SO much credit. Maybe too much credit. The person who spent hours baking and frosting a cake will get less credit than you, the person who bought stuff and put it on a board.
Here are a few tips for making it even easier on yourself:
Go to a cheese shop with trained mongers
Cheese is a living thing. Not everything behind a counter will be ripe and ready to go. Some cheeses are better at certain times of year (ps I am teaching a class on this on Wed, May 25th for the CA Cheese Guild!). Cheese is not cheap, and you deserve to know you’re buying something great. Mongers can tell you what’s in good condition and what’s going to be perfectly ripe by the time of your party (make sure to tell them when said party is, though they’ll probably ask you).
Keep the lineup tight but abundant
The classic beginner’s mistake is to get so excited about cheese that you buy everything you tasted and serve ten different cheeses. Is this a huge problem? No. But most people’s palates will get overwhelmed before they get to try everything. People want to try all the cheeses you brought! You are their cool cheese friend who picked out special cheeses for them! 3-7 is ideal, and I rarely serve more than 5. If cheese is accompanying a meal, less than an ounce per person per cheese is fine. If cheese is the bulk of what people are eating, go for 1-2 ounces per person per cheese. Try to include a range of milk types and textures. Your cheesemonger can help with this!
Serve at room temperature
Cold cheese is neither the texture nor the flavor that the maker intended. Leave it out for at least two hours before you serve it (unless we’re talking unfermented cheeses like burrata or ricotta, which I generally serve right out of the fridge). I almost always err on the side of leaving it out for longer. Cheese has been a staple food item for literally thousands of years because it’s also quite durable. The harder stuff especially can stay out truly all day and be fine.
Pairings are not an exact science
You know what pairs well with cheese? Most snack food. I mean, don’t throw gummy bears willy nilly on your cheese board (though I do enjoy peach rings with fresh goat cheese), but don’t stress too much about the other stuff. I like to include some sweet, some savory, some crunch, and a few wild cards. Chocolate is great paired with an aged gouda. Honey will never fail you. Cornichons add color and a pop of acidity. Potato chips are nice for dipping in softer cheese. Ask your monger what they like to pair with the cheeses you selected. Hell, you can DM Creamline on Instagram if you’re really worried about it and I’d be happy to help.
Don’t feel like you have to be a food stylist
If you are a fan of the Instagram cheese board aesthetic, godspeed. But, IMO, well-made cheese speaks for itself. You do not have to plate it with a dozen different pairing items to make it look appealing. I generally slice a few pieces of each beforehand so folks know how to portion everything, but that’s about it. My cheese boards look like a stern French grandmother made them, and that’s exactly how I like it.
Note: We are STILL in a pandemic. COVID rates are rising. At the same time, most of us are vaxxed to the max and feeling like the loneliness of the past few years is untenable to maintain. I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do from a public health perspective. It’s summer and we’re probably going to attend at least a few social events. When we do, I hope the vibes and the food are immaculate.
Part II: Wet Hot American Summer, Perfume Edition
TG: I can be picky when it comes to warm-weather perfumes. I usually gravitate towards creamy gourmands, cool woods, and tobacco smoke, none of which really feel conducive to a heat wave. I just find some citrus scents to be dull, certain florals can feel generic, and at least on my skin, most aquatic perfumes just smell cursed. Aquatic fragrances are quite popular in mass market fragrances — Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue is likely the best-selling example of this — especially ones marketed to men. Most of those campaigns, whether it’s for a cologne, perfume, or both, promise the citrusy, oceanic scent of whatever a beach club in Mykonos or Capri or Ibiza is supposed to smell like. (I mean, it works. I met David Gandy once and his face is so symmetrical it was like staring into the sun. It hurt.) They’re summer-y in a straightforward way, an afternoon dip in the sea.
This season, though, I’ve noticed I have been craving some olfactory dampness. The fragrances I’m currently loving below aren’t actually classified as aquatic, they are each “wet,” for one reason or another. Let me explain.
If you’re ever driving through Ireland and happen to spot the canary yellow flowers that bloom wild along the roads and hills for most of the year, pull over and breathe deep. Those are gorse flowers, and they imbue the cool country breeze with a vanilla-like, almost coconut-y sweetness. I've been trying to find their dried petals online for months (to use in baking, simple syrup, etc.) but because the plant is apparently quite invasive, they're tough to acquire without foraging for them yourself. In my research, though, I found a perfume driven by the whole shrub from Scottish perfumery Jorum Studio. It reminds me of the impression that sweet, damp soil makes on a flowing floral dress after a picnic. The juice gets its earthy sweetness from gorse’s petals and its spiky wood, along with crab apple, pineapple weed, and gooseberry. I can’t get enough.
You all must think this brand is paying me at this point, but really, they just keep dropping winners. This fancy, vegetal weirdo was inspired by the verdant and oft-silly bistro cuisine of 90s-early aughts New York: think peartinis, pea flower powder, and fresh green peppers. It’s a savory gourmand, which is a rarity, and it even captures a whiff of the aquatic fragrances popular among the restaurant crowd at the time. (Co-founders David and Kavi actually met at Pure Food and Wine — Bad Vegan, anyone?) It’s been a solid day-to-night option in my arsenal since it launched.
Much like its packaging, this fragrance is preppy without the pretentiousness. With notes like linden blossom, ivy leaves, and fresh tennis balls, it smells of a just-watered, meticulously manicured lawn in Princeton or East Egg. Maybe Jordan Baker is teeing off on that lawn, sipping champagne and judging the rest of the houseguests from a great height the way only Elizabeth Debicki can. Cheers!
PART III: GAME OF THREES
We’re not sure which one of you wrote about us or talked us up at a party, but we recently got a ton of new subscribers/IG followers, seemingly overnight. If it was you who encouraged this, please tell us. But if you’re new here, welcome! The “get to know us” game below is for you.
Lilac Syrup: Because I’m a witch I guess? I used this recipe, which seemed both simpler and more authoritative than others on the internets. The process was time-consuming, but ultimately easy. I drizzled a bit of syrup in my coffee this morning and plan on using the rest for cocktails and a lemon lilac sorbet. It’s also nice with seltzer + unsweetened cranberry juice, which is my “I don’t want to drink booze but would like something cute to sip on” move.
(TG: I saw you post this and instantly called my mom in Jersey and asked if she had lilacs blooming in the backyard that I could steal.)
A Springy Scramble: I had fiddlehead ferns and goat cheese in the fridge, so after a quick saltwater blanch of the fiddleheads, I threw them in a scramble with the goat cheese. VERY GOOD STUFF.
The trick? (I guess there are two)
1) Cook your scrambled eggs in butter for better flavor
2) For springy aromatics, throw in the tiniest bit of lemon zest before you beat your eggs. I maybe zested ¼ of the lemon for eggs for 4 people. It doesn’t read as lemony, more so as “Wow, am I brunching at an Italian villa?” Especially nice with chives or fresh thyme, if you have some around.
Rhubarb Compote: I’m always delighted to see rhubarb at the grocery store, then nearly always miss rhubarb season because I never get around to making that beautiful rhubarb cake or galette that I was imagining. This time, I committed to a simpler plan. I took 15 minutes to make Melissa Clark’s Rhubarb Compote recipe from NYT Cooking and it’s already gone lols. Making more this week to put over ice cream, fresh goat cheese, waffles, and whatever else I feel like.
(TG: Or split the difference: goat cheese ice cream? I’ve been eyeing Melissa Clark’s recipe for Curried Duck with Ginger and Rhubarb, too.
A very verdant antipasti: This may cost me my Italian-American card, but I never find artichokes to be worth the effort. But two came in my especially spring-y Farm to People box recently, along with some gorgeous fiddleheads, so I figured better late than never. Prepping both was extremely meditative: I trimmed the chokes and kept them bobbing in lemon water until they were ready for roasting, then I cleaned the fiddleheads and sautéed them in butter, lemon, and garlic. I plated them with hard-boiled eggs, lettuce, potatoes, and homemade mayonnaise for dipping.
Olive oil cake: I used this very simple recipe by Samantha Seneviratne since I am absolutely not a Star Baker. I served the cake with greek yogurt and even more lemon-y Brightland EVOO for breakfast the next AM. It got even tastier in the fridge in the coming days, so it became our picnic basket hero item that entire weekend.
Ramp butter chicken: Though alliums and I don’t get along much these days (I’m working on it with olfactory therapy and electroacupuncture) I couldn’t sit out ramp season completely. I reserved the ramp stems for pickling, then blanched the leaves and blended them with Kerrygold and salt. I stuffed the pistachio-hued good stuff under the skin of a whole chicken, put a halved lemon up its ass, then roasted it until very, very golden-brown.
Camino Yuzu Cannabis-Infused Gummies: God bless California and its extremely legal weed. I brought these gummies back from LA and have been microdosing them (half a gummy, so 2.5 mg of THC and 2.5 of CBD) with a steady stream of coffee to manage my ADHD. My brain is slightly less squirrelly and the gummies taste great.
Nettles: My local grocery store sells fresh organic nettles, apparently?! And a large bag was $3.60?! I haven’t worked with fresh nettles before, but I think I’m going to make some sort of pasta with them.
Huda Beauty Color Block Obsessions Palette: I’m not usually a colorful eye makeup lady, but that seems to be a trend for the summer and I’ve decided to lean into it. This is the first look I’ve used it for (which, in retrospect, was pretty subtle) and I’m excited to try more. The color payoff from these is supposed to be great, so I just need to stop being a coward and commit to smearing bright neon colors over my eyelids.
SOS Chefs mini haul: Though it’s the perfect place to stock a pantry with high-quality essentials, it’s also Impulse Buy City when you’re waiting for your sandwich from Sunny & Annie’s a couple doors down. This time, I told Atef I was craving some major heat and acid to kick my nose back into gear and I left with their house harissa, kumquat kosho paste, and dried Christmas lima beans that remind me of Oreos.
Denim jumpsuit and gold ring: I don’t usually have much luck finding jumpsuits that fit my 5’9 frame, especially when they’re denim, but this 70s find from the utterly adorable Hello Banana vintage is so soft and just oversized enough that I couldn’t leave it behind. The gold ring was another impulse buy; it felt very Casino.
Tart Sour Cherry and Ocean Vinegars: Everything Tart cranks out is whimsical and complex and just plain pretty, and I plan on using these in marinades, desserts, and cocktails all summer. I just cracked open the sour cherry bottle to brighten up a spring-y dressing with King EVOO, the kumquat kosho paste I mentioned, mustard, honey, and dill.
Swift Instant Coffee: Since writing an instant coffee piece a few years ago, I’ve been converted to third-wave instant coffee, made from better beans and using a gentler drying process than the instant coffee of our grandparents’ generation. I threw a box of this Ethiopian coffee in my bag as I was packing for LA, with the idea that I’d have a cup or two at the airport. But, it ended up being significantly better than the coffee at our hotel and I liked it enough that I finished the box. It’s the perfect travel coffee, especially if you’re traveling for something like a wedding, where your schedule is not really your own.
SO MANY SMOOTHIES: My current favorite is every single type of berry in my freezer with goat milk (not to be fancy, it’s just what I have around!), honey, and a sprinkle of cardamom, but if you have favorite smoothie combos, I’d love to hear them.
Castello di Tassarolo, Gavi Orsola: 100% Cortese di Gavi from Piedmont. The zippy acidity and orange blossom/chamomile notes were perfect with the caper and olive pantry pasta we were enjoying alongside it. Super recommend for any springy meal situation you have coming up.
A homemade peppadew martini: IMHO, peppadews are wildly underrated, as both an ingredient and a garnish. We made some zesty tinis with gin and some peppadew brine, polished off with four peppers jammed onto a toothpick. I also just love the color combo of the sweet lil pepps and my lavender coups from Estelle’s Colored Glass.
(CC : THIS IS BRILLIANT. Remind me to make you my peppadew margarita sometime, Taylore.)
Interboro Canagy Burgundy Fruited Sour: Stephen and I like to have a couple beers and play Scrabble at his neighborhood bar, and this is the sour that’s currently on tap. I was warned that it’s “tart, no like, really really tart, maybe try it first.” It’s mouth-puckeringly perfect, like fresh boardwalk lemonade with a touch of sour cherry (another personal trend.)
Berry colada smoothie from Hawa: There’s a Hawa 3 minutes from my apartment, so I indulge in this strawberry-banana-pineapple-coconut situation at least twice a week.
TikTok Drama: TikTok has been HIGHLY contentious lately, between Womblands, The Depp v Heard coverage, “do beauty influencers actually know how to apply makeup” and all the rest. Praying for my feed to quickly return to Zoomers eating their way through Taiwan, Vagus nerve content, and explainers on how we’ve moved from late-stage capitalism to neo-feudalism (have I mentioned how much I normally love TikTok?).
Second-Guessing my Body: Turns out, you can’t talk your body out of what it needs, even if you think it shouldn’t need those things. If my body tells me it’s hungry, I give it a snack or a meal. If it tells me it’s tired, I try to take a nap (okay, and sometimes I just give it more caffeine). Choosing to see my body as a trusted guide, rather than a nuisance, has noticeably improved my relationship with it.
Instagram Time Limits: You know how your phone can lock you out of certain apps after a certain amount of time? I’ve abused the “Add 15 Minutes” button for months now, and I think it’s time to stop pretending like I care about my screen time. Clearly, my dopamine-deficient brain has other plans.
The Depp v Heard coverage: Pretty sure my breaking point was seeing one influencer’s “inspirational” Tiktok about “leaving behind what doesn’t serve you” as she strolled on the beach with a clip of Johnny Depp’s testimony playing over the top. What the fuck is going on?
The Murcury retrograde/Lunar eclipse: I can’t properly express how much this astrological one-two punch event whooped my ass. I was on the ropes for a week straight. No one talk to me this weekend unless you’re going to hand me a drink or gently pet my head while you do it.
CC Note: CO-SIGN
Macbeth on Broadway: Listen. Ruth Negga is a prize, as is Daniel Craig, and I didn’t hate the latest revival of The Scottish Play. But Sam Gold made some choices that I and the rest of my party *did not love.* To put it gently, the vibes were off. I will, though, be using Negga’s line reading of “You have displaced the mirth!” every time someone is being a bummer for the foreseeable future.