I love the Rachael Ray Every Day test kitchen. Dearly. Not only are the staffers tireless in their pursuit of recipe perfection, they’ll magically appear with food—like so many lunch fairies—if they even suspect you might be trapped and hungry at your desk.
One thing our test kitchen doesn’t have, however, is a view of Paris. So when I encountered another that did, I couldn’t help but be seduced. And I’m here to confess my fling.
It began not in the kitchen itself, but on a staircase landing I hit en route, where I fell under the hypnotic spell of a pink macaron whirligig.
Why the installation? It signals that you’re on the doorstep of the macaron maestro himself: one Pierre Hermé, also known as Paris’s “Picasso of Pastry” and general dessert deity about town.
Baussan, left; Hermé, right
Among Hermé’s biggest fans is L’Occitane founder Olivier Baussan. And their new holiday collaboration is the reason I—and several other reporters—wound up in that test kitchen. Where better, thought Hermé and Baussan, to celebrate some of the foodiest beauty products in history? (I should note that the November attacks hadn’t yet happened, so everyone was feeling more festive.)
As Hermé’s staffers gave us macaron-making lessons—don’t overmix your batter, or it’ll be too runny to hold a nice shape—we talked ingredient combos that work as well on your skin as in patisserie. Take rhubarb, clove, nutmeg and grapefruit—a super-fresh foursome you’ll find in the Pamplemousse Rhubarbe Body Lotion, among other products. Or honey-crystallized mandarin, which scents the heavenly Miel Mandarine Hand Cream.
Then there was bitter orange blossom, jasmine and Immortelle flower—a trio I couldn’t get enough of, whether in perfume or pastry form. (Hermé makes tons of floral desserts, as I’d already discovered through careful recon at one of his ice cream outposts.)
Violet-flavored ice cream and candy mixed with other deliciousness
“Many of the ingredients in L’Occitane’s holiday collection have appeared in my pastry,” he noted during the launch. “But while I normally work with my mouth, this time I was working with my nose.” (Lest you miss the pâtissier’s imprint on each scent, the perfume bottles are even shaped like abstract macarons.)
After a bit more chitchat, my dalliance with the dessert demigod ended.
I’ve since returned to the loving embrace of our own test kitchen—with the bonus pounds to prove it (I came back just in time for holiday treat testing). Still, monsieur Hermé, we’ll always have Paris.
Beauty editing can be all kind of things: an eye feast, a funfest—a crazy education (true story: when a friend was studying for his medical boards, I did better on the dermatology practice tests than he did). But one thing the gig is not, typically: a big soul stirrer.
Last week, however, I lucked into an exception: a Look Good Feel Better workshop. This free program—which I’d been invited to observe by the underwriting foundation—exists solely to help cancer patients handle the side effects they see in the mirror.
The point, of course, is not to feel runway-ready (forgive me: I’m getting a thousand New York Fashion Week press releases per minute as I write). The point is simply to feel like oneself—an often elusive state for anyone who doesn’t think she looks like herself.
And while the women at the session I sat in on were remarkably beautiful, they’d all seen their share of change: Most had lost their hair; some had lost their brows—everyone had newfound skin care concerns. Speaking of, I should note that each participant gets a cosmetics kit, and the contents are always screened for toxicity.
The workshop was led by a volunteer veteran of the beauty industry who’s versed in everything from blush blending to wig washing—and wise-cracking, when a group clearly needs a good laugh.
She kept the intros intentionally brief—a detail that might have been lost on me had I not been struck by something a friend said several months ago, mid-chemo: Feeling obliged to talk about your cancer, even among people who can relate, gets old fast.
Then again, there’s perhaps no better ice breaker than group grooming. It feels like such a throwback—seriously, when did you last primp en masse? at a slumber party? bunk night?—the sheer girliness seems to take women out of themselves. Yes, even if they’re learning how to keep scarves from slipping off their newly exposed scalps.
As I followed the participants through their two-hour session, I kept trying to figure out what accounted for the amazing transformation I was witnessing: That escapist element? The makeup itself (which, for the record, was fabulous by any standards)? The expert tutelage? Or simply being pampered?
In the end, I suspected the answer was all of the above, with a heavy emphasis on options A and D. And according to one graduate of the program, I wasn’t too far off: “It was the beautiful women, both inside and out, who gave me an opportunity to think about something other than cancer. I instantly felt brighter. It was just such a nice contrast—and that in itself was inspiring.”
Indeed, however face-brightening the blush—or natural-looking the penciled-on brows—there’s no cosmetic that can hold a candle to the gorgeous glow of kindness.
To find a workshop near you, click here. And many thanks again to the workshop participants—as well as to the Personal Care Products Council Foundation and NYU Langone’s Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center—for allowing me to observe.
Whatever your thoughts on Valentine’s Day, and whatever your relationship status, there’s one way to commemorate the occasion that pretty much everyone can get behind: chocolate-drizzled spa services. Want a sensual celebration for two? Indulgent consolation for one? Silent protest against the romance industrial complex? These five treatments serve admirably as any of the above.
Photo courtesy of Westward Look
The Sonoran Spa’s Chocolate Stone Massage at the Westward Look, a Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa in Tucson, AZ
Get it while it’s hot! This is a limited-engagement treatment involving warm basalt stones that have been bathed in ridiculously delicious-smelling, skin-soothing chocolate oil. You’ll be plied with them for 80 otherworldly minutes, then—if you can manage to sit up straight (or even remember your own name)—you’ll be treated to a champagne chaser in the relaxation area (from $150 for 80 minutes; westwardlook.com/offers/tucson-spa-specials).
The Joya Spa’s Chocolate Mousse Body Wrap at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia
Elsewhere in Arizona (which happens to be my home state, so I’m exercising authorial privilege and listing two places there), you can get slathered in chocolate sugar mousse, wrapped in mylar, then treated to scalp massage or reflexology while you “set” for 20 minutes. During that time, any dead skin cells that that survived the manual sloughing will be eaten away by the enzymes in the antioxidant-rich mousse. Next comes a shower—and a final rubdown with a blend of avocado oil, hyaluronic acid, vanilla extract and, of course, essential oil of cocoa (from $159 for 50 minutes; omnihotels.com/hotels/scottsdale-montelucia/spa/seasonal-specials).
The Well Spa & Salon’s Berry, Wine and Chocolate Delight Transformational Facial at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, WI
Encompassing multiple important food groups in one (wine, chocolate, creamy things), this treatment gets going with a cranberry-scented cleansing milk and shea butter sugar polish. Next comes a mask of decadent, antioxidant-rich dark chocolate—followed by even more antioxidants: a cocktail of wine grapes and peptides. By the end, your skin is so de-stressed and plumped up, you’d be carded if you decided to pop over the winery that supplied the grapes. (from $120 for 50 minutes; grandgeneva.com/well-spa-lake-geneva).
Photo courtesy of Jade Mountain
The Kai en Ciel Spa’s Chocolate Delight at Jade Mountain in Saint Lucia
If you want a side of tropical gorgeousness with your spa treatment, head to one of the lushest, most mountainous islands in the Caribbean—Saint Lucia—and check into Jade Mountain. The property has its own organic cocoa plantation (1000 trees and counting), and when you’re not making your own edible treats at the resort’s Chocolate Lab, you can basically become a human tartufo at the spa. When you sign up for the Chocolate Delight, you’ll be coated in alternating layers of hot and cold chocolate, then left to drift into another stratosphere while your skin binges on all the antioxidants and moisture ($150 for 60 minutes, jademountain.com/wellness/spa).
Photo courtesy of Paresa Resort
The Spa by Paresa’s Chocolate Menu at the Paresa Resort in Phuket, Thailand
If you can’t get enough chocolate in your system—and miles in your frequent flier account—this motherlode’s for you: On Thailand’s dreamy, turquoise coast, you’ll find an entire cocoa-loco spa lineup. There’s the Dark Chocolate Champagne Body Wrap, the White Chocolate Latte Footsie (a hot milk and cocoa butter-based pedi), the Chocolate Honey Facial and—for anyone who wants to swim in the stuff—the Organic Chocolate & Coconut Bubble Bath. Go ahead. No judgment (from $52 for 60 minutes, paresaresorts.com).
If you have to be awake when you sincerely don’t want to be, Crystal’s who you want across the counter from you: The kind of person who remembers your order before you have the neural capacity to do so yourself—and who’s that rare, perfect morning blend of cheery and chill—she’s got a smile for everyone who walks through the door. Even at the most ungodly of hours.
But today, her smile was extra…something. In fact, there was a je ne sais quois to all the baristas at my local Starbucks—the sort of thing that makes you ask, Did you change your hair? And then I realized: I was staring at a multi-human gallery of body art, none of which I’d seen in all my millions of morning pilgrimages to the same place. “Is it somehow possible I’ve never noticed your body art?” I asked Crystal. She then explained that today is the first day Starbucks is permitting employees to reveal their previously banned nose studs and tattoos.
In addition to body ink, Starbucks employees will now be allowed to rock untucked shirts, nose studs, shorts, skirts, black jeans, tan khakis and colorful scarves and ties, according to CNN. And the easing up of the dress code comes with even more good news: Once January rolls around, Starbucks will give a pay increase to all baristas and shift managers, and allow them one free pastry or other pre-made snack per shift.
So: Happy first day of tat freedom, Crystal—and baristas everywhere. Enjoy the right to bare arms!
More Food News
As the magazine’s beauty and travel editor, I wind up in some…unusual situations. From marital maintenance to power-tanning, here’s one I couldn’t help but write about.
When travel writers and editors hang out, you can count the seconds before everyone’s talking about recent trips, upcoming trips—and the art of cramming laundry, bills and marriage into 12-hour stopovers at home. But at last weekend’s Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference (the best one to attend if you happen to be an aspiring travel journalist, by the way), conversation turned toward something totally out of character for this crowd: skincare.
Photo courtesy of Candace Rose Rardon
Eating, drinking and making merry outside? What you want from your sunscreen– beyond broad-spectrum protection and an SPF of at least 30– is a scent that won’t compete with food and a formula that won’t leave your hands too goopy to snack. We found six products that fit both bills, and work extra well for the fiestas below– though a few tubes can easily cross party lines!
In a nod to grill season, or just to charcoal’s skin-purifying powers, this natural-born dirt magnet is on fire in skincare circles.
Charcoal meets softening cacao in Osmia Organics Detox Exfoliating Mask. ($40 with code RACHAEL, through September; osmiaorganics.com)
The brand famous for its pore strips has a new way for you to power-cleanse: Bioré Skincare Deep Pore Charcoal Cleanser. ($8; at drugstores)
Massage away dead skin and other debris with Freeman Feeling Beautiful Charcoal & Black Sugar Facial Polishing Mask. ($4; at drugstores)
Blending charcoal with breakout-blocking salicylic acid, Garnier Clean Shine Control Cleansing Gel Oily Skin helps keep you in the clear. ($8; at drugstores)
De-shine on the go with Sephora Collection Charcoal Blotting Papers. ($10; sephora.com)
If you happen to fly Southwest Airlines this spring break—or for any other reason during the first half of April—keep your camera on hand. A rock star may go all Billy Idol in The Wedding Singer and start working the crowd.
In, um, concert with Live in the Vineyard (a Napa, California, event that celebrates food, wine and music), Southwest is holding a series of surprise “Live at 35” shows, each capped at two songs just in case there are any Brahms-or-bust passengers on board. Upcoming appearances are kept a secret—with the exception of teasers on the airline’s and festival’s Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and blogs, but the past stars (see above and below) should give you some sense of who may be going through security with you.
Enter the Live in the Vineyard sweepstakes here, for the chance to win an amazing trip estimated at $3,000!
As a child of the decade that birthed the term “stranger danger”—and a thousand related after-school specials—I just did something that flies in the face of my upbringing: I went to the apartment of people I’d never met, in a place I’d never been, to eat with 10 perfect strangers.
I’d started to hear things—very, very good things—about a certain EatWith. A “global community that invites you to dine in homes,” it launched last February in Israel and Spain, and has since expanded into 31 countries and 15 US cities, with many more outposts to come. So in the not-too-distant future, you may well visit—and/or inhabit—an EatWith-colonized territory where you can go online, find a good-looking homemade meal, fill out a profile (mammal-avoidant Urdu speaker? mayo-phobic spice lover? get as detailed as you want), pay the suggested donation ($17-$150) and show up hungry at the appointed time and place.
And here’s the key: An EatWith rep has likely been there already to assess the cleanliness, yumminess and—yes, ma—the safety factor. (If so, you’ll find an “EatWith Verified” icon in the profile, and even if not, other guests may have been there and written reviews.) Hosts, for their part, are granted a million-dollar insurance policy—in case, I suppose, Charlie Sheen, Courtney Love and every last member of the Wolf Pack sign up for the same dinner, whether Flautas in Flagstaff, Brazilian in Barcelona, or anything in between.
For me, couscous in Crown Heights was the big draw. And shortly after I signed up, my inbox informed me that “Ron + Leetal want to EatWith you too!” I was surprisingly relieved, and not a little curious about what would have happened had my prospective hosts turned me down. So I went to the FAQ on that very topic:
What happens if my booking request is declined or expires?
…You can contact the host to find out what happened [all contact happens through the site, by the way; not through your personal email]. The host might not have been available to check your request within 24 hours. He or she may also not have been able to cater to your needs (as stated in your profile, e.g., you may be a vegan and the host only does BBQ events). But don’t get discouraged. Look for other offerings in that location. We promise you will find something special just for you! You can also contact us for assistance in booking or to get recommendations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now extra grateful to have a place at the table, I used the directions in the confirmation email to find an out-of-the-way, old-school Brooklyn apartment building where—though comforted to see someone by the front door who looked as tentative as I felt (clearly, the guy was another EatWith guest)—I was shamed by what he had in hand: a bottle of wine.
What was I, raised in a barn?
I felt slightly less mortified when I figured out that almost everyone else in attendance had showed up empty-handed—in fairness, after paying $86 to be there in the first place—but my note to self that night was to err on the side of generosity next time.
Apparently, I got over my shame just fine: 15 minutes in, I was already Power-Vac-ing my way through course after course of what was unequivocally one of the best meals of my life. Granted—like a surprising number of EatWith hosts—mine were professional foodies. Known for small-batch, hugely addictive harissa and other Middle Eastern goodness, the duo behind NY Shuk—28-year-old Leetal and 32-year-old Ron Arazi—grew up in Israel on a mix of Turkish, Iraqi, Moroccan and Lebanese food, thanks to their family backgrounds. “We feel that this type of food just feels and tastes better at home, where you feel relaxed,” says Leetal. “We enjoy having guests in our home so why not share with them what we enjoy most of all?”
And the night of our dinner, “what we enjoy most of all” translated to the following: a cured lemon and arak cocktail; freshly baked challah with slada de chizo (braised carrots, cilantro, parsley, lemon and l’ekama, a spice-and-oil mix that was also given to us as a parting gift, and that didn’t last 24 hours in my possession); sautéed carrots rubbed with l’ekama; baked beetroot with herbs and walnuts; matbucha (tomato and garlic salad); chirchi (roasted squash, raisins and spices); oranges and black olives with harissa; charred red pepper salad; garlic-sautéed cauliflower with “Ronesco” (Ron’s twist on romesco) and a Lebanese green onion salad; Jerusalem artichoke and fresh turmeric; pickled fennel and carrots; and stuffed puff pastry.
Then came the star of the show: hand-rolled couscous, served in my case with Tunisian-style black spinach (I’m EDWRR’s resident vegetarian) and in the case of everyone else, ka’aboorot (a seemingly fabulous chicken dish), plus chickpea stew and baked pumpkin with caramelized onion and tanzeya (slow-cooked dried fruit and spices).
Evidently, someone then slipped us a collective mickey and pumped our stomachs, because there’s no other possible explanation for how anyone managed dessert: Turkish coffee-flavored chocolate pudding with whipped cream and pistachios, plus milk chocolate and honey truffles, sage butter cookies and homemade marzipan.
Of course, however spectacular the food, the company made the meal. From the baker to the businesswoman, everyone in this international crowd of 20-somethings to 40-somethings was interesting and friendly—and had all kinds of crazy commonalities. At first, I thought the craziest was that there were two Anglo-Israeli documentarian/video producer guys sitting directly across the table from each other. But here’s what was even crazier: When I wanted to set one of them up with a friend, I learned she’d already been fixed up with him. By someone else at the table. At which point I realized: Ron and Leetal should have hung the same framed Yeats quote that so many Irish pubs do:
“There are no strangers here, only friends that have not yet met.”