How I’m Using Herbal Infusions to Recreate My Favorite Travel Memories
For the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have to admit that I enjoyed the break from airports and planes. Prior to March 2020, I was taking a flight about once a month (between work trips, visiting family, and vacations). My very last flight was a return trip from Charleston, where HRN hosted a weekend full of live interviews and events at Charleston Wine + Food.
So, it’s been nine months since I’ve stepped foot on a plane. About six months into the pandemic, I finally started to miss the long-distance travel, and specific memories started to pop into my mind. Most of them were about food: a pistachio and chocolate escargot from Du Pain et des Idées in Paris, fagiolo all'olio at Trattoria Sergio Gozzi in Florence, or Turtle Soup from Commander’s Palace in New Orleans.
Even if I were to successfully recreate these dishes at home (and I doubt I could!), it wouldn’t be the same as eating them in the city where the memory of them is rooted. So, instead, I turned to a new kitchen gadget acquired during ‘quarantine.’
LEVO is a machine that allows you to make simple, automated herbal infusions in your own kitchen. While it’s commonly used to make edibles, it can make all kinds of delicious treats and self-care items like balms and salves. I soon realized I could make potent creations that could strike the right chord to bring back some of my favorite travel memories. Here’s how I got creative with my infusions:
Memory #1 - Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella Firenze (Florence, Italy)
Florence is one of my favorite cities to visit. It’s beautiful, walkable, and full of amazing food. One of the places we like to pass through is the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, credited as one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. It was founded by Dominican friars in the 13th C. who used herbs grown in the monastic gardens to make medications and balms. Today, the building houses multiple sales rooms, a tea room, a museum, and a library. I love to wander through to smell the soaps, lotions, pot pourris, and more.
One of the fragrances that conjures memories of Santa Maria Novella is sandalwood, which is in several of their skin care items. To make something similar at home, I used the LEVO to create a basic calendula lotion bar and then added sandalwood essential oil after the infusion process but before pouring it into molds. This is a perfect self-care item to stock up on before winter and/or send as gifts around the holiday season!
Memory #2 - Maison Pralus (Paris, France)
Michael Harlan Turkell, host of The Food Seen on HRN, tipped me off to one of the best treats in all of Paris: La Praluline! Served up at the colorful bakery, Maison Pralus, it is a “rich brioche flavored with pieces of pralines made in-house: Valencia almonds and Piedmont hazelnuts coated in rose sugar and then cracked.” I would never dare try recreating this bread myself – making a simple sourdough was the peak of my pandemic baking experience.
Instead, I used LEVO’s basic honey infusion recipe with rose petals to recreate the unique praluline flavor. The best part? It works as a sweetener in lattes or on ice cream – so I can think nice thoughts of Paris both morning and night!
Memory #3 - Santa Maria Del Mar (Havana, Cuba)
As winter approaches, I am longing for a beach trip. Usually around this time, I would cope with dropping temperatures by planning a tropical get-away for late February. It always helps to have something to look forward to! In February 2017, I went to Havana for a warm-weather getaway. It was heavenly, thanks to our generous hosts, plentiful mojitos, and the near-complete absence of Wi-Fi.
Since I can’t plan a trip quite like that anytime soon, I decided to make a mojito-inspired lip balm for the winter. LEVO knew just what I needed: a DIY mint infused lip balm! Now all I need is a sun lamp, and I can try to envision myself on Santa Maria Del Mar, a spacious and uncrowded beach just east of Havana.
Memory #4 - El Taco de Mexico (Denver, Colorado)
I first visited Denver on a work trip for HRN to cover the inaugural Slow Food Nations in 2017, and it’s become an annual pilgrimage. Sadly, the festival was cancelled this year, but that didn’t stop me. I jumped in the car with my partner and dog and we drove halfway across the country this summer to spend a few days in the Mile High City. (Coincidentally, Denver is home to LEVO HQ!)
One of the motivations for the long-haul Denver trip was El Taco de Mexico – hands down one of my favorite restaurants. Don’t just take my word for it. It was awarded a James Beard “America’s Classic” Award this year. Their green chile burrito is transcendent, yes – but what I dream of is their horchata! What could be more reminiscent of Denver than LEVO’s infused horchata recipe? It’s not a replacement for El Taco de Mexico, but it’ll do until I can get back on a plane.