Harvest Tamales

Harvest Tamales

Tamales are an ancient Mesoamerican steamed dumplings, made from masa harina wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves, and usually stuffed with either meat, beans or vegetables. It is not only an easy to carry provision, but also has significant ritual meaning. It was served as offering to the gods, and copal incense shaped as tamales were placed in the mouth of the dead before burying, and is to this day served as an offering to the ancestors on Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico.  

Tamales can be stuffed with anything really, but here I bring you a fall favourite: tamales with sweet potato and chestnut filling. They have a savoury and sweet taste and are a treat all around. They can be steamed in both corn husks and banana leaves (although each wrapper requires a different kind of prep and a slightly different wrapping technique). 

For the masa, I'm giving you my recipe for one that is based on store-bought dried up masa harina. It's a very similar dough to that used for making corn tortillas, only a bit softer and with the addition of baking powder and more oil or fat (your choice which kind). 

The filling can be made with either orange or purple yams, with an equally delightful flavour. 

2 cups masa harina (specialty corn flour that was processed with lime)
1-1/2 to 2 cups warm water
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2-4 Tbs grapeseed oil, sunflower oil or another nutritious and neutral tasting oil; or butter if you wish
- Measure the masa harina, salt and baking powder together, and mix with a fork
- Gradually add 1-1/2 cups of water, not all at once, and the oil, and knead with hands. Add up to another 1/2 cup if needed. The dough should be soft but not sticky (if too sticky add more masa harina)
- Divide the dough into 20 even sized balls and set aside, covered with a towel to prevent drying. If you're using corn husks, you may need to make more smaller balls. 

2 medium sized yams (or 4 small sized), either purple or orange 
1/2 cup pre-boiled and shelled chestnuts (I used the entire content of a vacuum package) 
1 medium purple or sweet onion, chopped
1/4 tsp chipotle chilli pepper, powdered, or chipotle pepper paste
1/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cocoa powder
a pinch of cinnamon
Salt to taste
Oil for sautéing 
- Wash and steam the yams until soft. I like to keep the peel on (that's where all the vitamins are, and it adds a nice texture and flavour)
- Sauté the onions, stirring occasionally, until caramelized and are golden-brown and significantly shrank in size but not burnt
- Chop the chestnuts
- Cut the steamed yams into cubes and mix with the spices, onions, and chestnuts

Now it's time to start forming the tamales!
If your'e using corn husks, blanch them in boiling water to soften them. Flatten the masa ball into a small flat disk on the palm of you rhand, place a teaspoon or so of filling, close with your fist and place inside the corn husk, folding the bottom to close it. 

If you're using banana leaves, run the leaf briefly over an open flame to shrivel it, wipe clean with a wet cloth, then remove the leave's spine and cut each side into appropriate size pieces. Best way to go about that is try one for size, make sure it is wide enough to encase a tamale, and then use that as a guide for cutting all the other parts. 
For forming the tamales, place the leaf on a tortilla press, place a masa ball on top, layer it overtop with a plastic sheet (to prevent sticking to the top of the press), then place a spoonful of filling, and wrap the tamale from all sides, using the banana leaf to shape it and fold and then close it in. 

In both cases, the tamales should arranged in a steam, with the open side up, a. d steamed for about an hour. To make sure there is always enough water at the bottom of the pot, and prevent scorching, place a couple of coins in the bottom of the pot. If you don't hear it rattling, it means the water run out and you need to add more. 

Serve hot or room temperature, these are delicious on their own but even better with a spicy salsa to balance the sweetness. Or with a homemade molé amarillo. 

New: Bone Flower (Omixochitl) Creme Parfum

New: Bone Flower (Omixochitl) Creme Parfum

There are some thees that are so elusive and intriguing that a perfumer can go back to them time and again, and never get bored. Tuberose is such theme, which I've explored times and again, first in White Potion (softness and creamy powdery aspects), Schizm (heady, earthy and mossy facets), and Treazon (intense, narcotic, and controversial). 

There are many qualities of tuberose, and I most often work with what I have on hand a paste-like absolute that has a softness, and an almost green-violetty tonality. Occasionally, I come across an exceptional distillation that inspires a different approach. And this was what inspired me to create Bone Flower solid perfume. I've used tuberose concrete, a material I've never come across before, and which brings the best of all worlds, perhaps because it also contains the very rich-smelling floral wax. It showcases tuberose's green, dewy, cut-flower aspects, its creaminess as well as the heady and intoxicating richness of the intensifying flower as the day progresses. 

Guided by the philosophy that what grows together goes together, an especially creamy and intense batch of tuberose  was paired with other botanicals indigenous to Mexico and Central America - the region of where tuberose originates: instead of a neutral scented base oil, I have used an in-home infusion of copal oro resin, and to round off the tuberose I've also added palo santo and vanilla absolute. This potentially cloying bouquet is balanced by the freshness piñon pine, and a bitter-herbaceous white sage. 

Omixochitl, the Aztec name for tuberose (Agava amica), means "Bone Flower", alluding to its white colour and nocturnal behaviour, and use in funeral rites. And this is how I decided to name this perfume. Each rectangular tin contains approximately 10 grams of long lasting and concentrated tuberose solid perfume.

Enjoy this fall along with Ancestral Feast copal incense cones or sticks. 

Ancestral Feast Incense

Ancestral Feast Incense

Ancestral Feast Incense was created originally as a Five-Copals blend. The intent behind it was to have a special incense to burn to honour our ancestors. I have first used it in summer of 2019, when my grandma was struggling with death, and I was sure I am visiting her for the last time before she enters the gate to the other side. If you've ever been near a dying person, you may not be surprised to hear that she was communing with all her beloved that passed before her - her mother, father, and grandmother, and also her late husband (my grandfather) and her soul-mate that she was able to happily spend her later years with. I burnt this incense then to soothe her soul, and also burnt this on her funeral and continue to do this whenever I want to honour my ancestors, a practice I started a few years ago, and which I fell very important especially now after her passing.

Why copal you may ask? The word comes from copalii in the Nauhatl language (an Uto-Atzecan tongue), which simply means incense!

The smoke of copal of Central and South America (which comes from several different species, which I will get into in a bit) was considered the blood of the trees and food for the Gods, and also used in rituals and ceremonies to feed the soul of the deceased, and also used as a medicine to this day during sweatlodge ceremonies, where it is placed on the hot rocks within the lodge.

In a ceremonial well in Chichén Itzá, Copal pieces painted turquoise, and sometimes embedded with jade - supposedly a reference for the jade pieces that were placed in the mouths of the dead, to nourish them on their journey to the underworld (as jade was a symbol for the maise that was the most staple food in this part of the world). Additionally, among archeological findings in Lake Chapala and Nevado de Toluca were pieces of copal resin that were shaped into cobs of corn, or wrapped in corn husks like tamales, a custom that remained intact even after the Spanish conquest.  

So what is copal, then, and which plants does it come from? Botanically speaking, many resins other than frankincense that are light in colour, often are named copal. It comes from a variety of genus, primarily Bursera, and also Pinus and Agathis. In North America, we find Mayan Copal from Pinus contorta, that grows in the USA and produces a brittle, light brown and beige resin; while White Copal (Bursera jorullense), from Mexico, which is more of a clear, light yellow and sticky resin. Bursera is related to Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens), as well as to Black, White and Gold Copal from the Philippines are all produced from the same species - Agathis Dammara. From Africa there is Angola Copal (Copaifera demusii), and Zanzibar Copal or Amber Tree (Hymenaea verrucosa), which was used for wood and picture varnish. Most of the African copal is subfossil, meaning it is found a few meters deep in the earth below the trees it originates from. Subfossil copals also come from various other species  found all over the world: New Zealand (Agathis australis), Japan, Madagascar and in South America in the Dominican Republic and Columbia. 

This new batch of incense is a little different (with sixth kind of copal added: Angola Copal), thus making it an incense blend that has resins from 4 continents: North and South America, Asia and Africa. The base is also more complex and balanced with this blend, and I'm very happy with it.

I was able to make a larger batch than my original one, and roll some into cones, and others make into incense sticks. This is the first time I'm selling my incense sticks online, after much practice and although they are far from being perfect in shape - they are handmade, authentic and beautiful. I truly hope they will bring you the healing and connection that you are seeking with your own spirit and that of your ancestors.

To burn incense cones: Place the cone on a heat-proof dish or on a surface that you won't mind scorching (for example: a coin placed on top of a ceramic plate or tile; a ceramic bowl filled with sand, etc.), and away from any flammable materials, light the tip and blow off the flame. Allow to burn off completely.

To burn the incense sticks: Place the lit stick (light the tip and then blow out the flame) on a bowl full of ash (preferably rice ash). This will enable the stick to burn without any bits left off. If you have a designated incense dish with a hole you may also use that. It will leave a tiny bit of incense unused though.

Happy Samhain!

Happy Samhain!

Wishing you all a Happy Samhain!
For those not familiar this is the original holiday behind Halloween, a Celtic holiday which signifies the end of the harvest season, and the beginning of the new year. So in a sense this is New Year's Eve. It is one of eight major holidays on the Wheel of the Year, all of which hold an absolute earthy seasonal significance, taking place on the equinoxes, solstices, and the mid points between them. November 1st is the middle point between the Autumnal Equinox (the day in Fall when the night and day are equal, and after which the nights begin to become longer than the days); and the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year (or the shortest day, if you will). 

One this night, the veils are thinned between the physical world and the world of the dead, and it is considered a special time for reflection and honouring our ancestors and those dear to us who have passed. This holidays also resonates and is in sync with the Night of the Lost Souls between October 31st and November 1st, and the following day is Los Dias de Los Muertos - the Mexican Day of the Dead on November 2nd. And although I do not belong to any of these traditions, I found great comfort in discovering this immediate and fearless connection to Death and the dead. It is a day I now dedicate to remembering the dead I know in the family, and express my love and grief, inviting them to be part of my life despite the fact that their body is no longer with us. 

This year, my family has lost two important figures: my great-aunt (my grandma's only sister), who lived in Hawaii, and like her, loved the seas and the ocean so much that she decided to make her home right next to it. And my grandmother, who passed a few months after, being hospitalized just a week after the first Covid-19 lockdown in March. I haven't been able to see her since December, for her birthday, and I've been heartbroken and traumatized by her passing without us being able to take care of her in person, let alone bid a proper farewell. It is an outrageous and devastating situation, and a price too high to pay for what is proving (in Israel, anyway), to not be a real pandemic. The real pandemic is people being lonely, isolated, going mad, and not being able to be comforted on their deathbed by loved ones; and for family members to be torn away from their elders, who are dying anyway, and deserve decent taking care of and a decent funeral too.

Last time I've seen my grandmother was four days after she was transferred from the regular hospital to an old people's hospital on Mount Tabor. We were only allowed one visit, 2 meters from the facility's gate, masked and gloved. My grandmother (hospitalized there because she needed an oxygen supplement 24/7) was wheeled down to the courtyard and a mask forced upon her face. She was not able to see or hear properly, because of the distance, and because her hearing aids and glasses were not with her. Somehow all this time of hospitalization they remained at home and not even with her in the hospital. Two days later I saw her again with sand in her eyes, at the funeral. She dies in peace in her sleep, they say. And I'd like to think that way. Because on the other side, for quite some time, her parents, grandparents and sister were waiting for her, and so did the two loves of her life - my grandfather and her highschool sweetheart, who came back to her life and was with her traveling the world until he passed away at 88. They were conversing with her in all those long nights when we weren't by her bedside. And also sometimes when we were around to witness her struggles between the two worlds.

Grandma was a jet-setter and one of the pioneering career women. She knew how to be generous and kind and also stand her grounds. Her secret was undying optimism, and a very deep sense of duty to whatever she was doing, and doing so happily. She always made a point of spending quality time with her grandchildren - each on their own, and not only as a whole group. This way she got to really know us and each of us felt close to her. She always invested in our future - insisting that giving us while she's alive is way more meaningful and satisfying than leaving us a fortune once she is gone. 

My grandmother was my heroine, the core and heart and backbone of the entire family. A true matriarch that knew how to take care of herself first, and always be strong for everyone else as a result. I could always turn to her for advice, support and help. She was my perfumery's greatest fan, and only had good and supportive things to say about anything I do. Never questioning my choices, and always cheering me up when things didn't turn out quite as I hoped. She was my daughter's grandmother was well, which was so unique and a true blessing. And her favourite thing aside from traveling the world and swimming and playing bridge and entertaining - was to have us (all the family, not just me and my daughter) come over and stay with her for as long as possible. 

I hope she is now in peace, reunited with her mother, who died very young, her father (my great-grandfather), who I was fortunate to meet, her grandmother, who lived with her in Berlin until she was 12 and fled to Palestine, and must have taught her how to bake amazing things and shower grandchildren with endless love; she probably is swimming with her sister in the great ocean between life and death now, because I feel they are both still close to our world now. Soon she will be playing bridge and backgammon with my grandfather and her boyfriend. They will all get along and be happy that they don't need to wear those stupid masks and that they can visit us whenever they want without having their temperature checked first.  We just need to invite them. 

How do I do that? Bake some of my grandmother's favourite food or things that remind me of her - like her honey cake, pumpkin pie, or browned apple torte; place a cup of coffee and a cigar for grandpa, burn some copal or cinnamon-laden incense, dab some Vol de Nuit and place Old Spice on my ancestral altar. Look at some old photos that remind me of how they were so alive and loving. Go for a swim in the sea in honour of my family's matriarchs. Roll some more copal incense. It is the food for the soul of the dead, after all...

Odourama for the Dead

In honour of my dearly departed grandfather, I've set to create a little shrine in his memory, which I have fondly decided to call "Odourama" (you'll see why shortly). Today is Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) - the day when Mexicans honour their loved ones who have passed away. Inviting their spirits with their favourite foods, objects and hobbies, and inviting them to the family dinner, quite literally.

The normalization of death, making it part of life, is a new concept to me and foreign to my culture. Many years have passed since my grandfather's premature death (on my 13th birthday), and I have grown up much more since. I never had the tools to really cope with this death, and I am thankful that no one close to me has passed in all these years. Creating a shrine that will symbolically invite my grandfather's spirit for just one day (we don't want to disturb the dead from their peaceful rest) is stepping away from my heritage and traditions; creating it prove to be something very personal and meaningful to me.

If scent has the power to banish evil spirits, surely it can invite the spirits of our loved ones. It may not be as meaningful to the spirit as it is to the living person making the invitation. I was only a child when my grandfather passed, and I can only remember some of the things my grandfather enjoyed in his earthly life. Strong black espresso, bittersweet chocolate, grapefruit and cornflakes for breakfast, and Old Spice cologne (which I could not find a trace of anywhere). He also picked Vol de Nuit for my grandmother's signature perfume many years ago, so I put a bottle of that in lieu of Old Spice. I'm sure that smelling my grandma's favourite perfume will please him just as much!

Next year I will build a real one with little skeleton sculpture to celebrate his life's accomplishments. But for now, using the essential oils of grapefruit, coffee and marigold (the Day of the Dead symbolic flower) work just as effectively. It is all about creating the space in your home for those no longer with us. Because we are physical beings, we need those physical reminders, even if once a year, that our loved ones still are with us in some invisible way. Now I'm going to brew some dark coffee. I've already got the coffee table set for three - with After Eight (his favourite chocolate), some cookies, and the great granddaughter he's never lived long enough to meet.
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