Saturday, 25 August 2018

Kitchen sink cologne and over-egged coleslaw - and how, as with slaw, less is more

When I was very young, I asked my brother (who is six years my senior) why there was no white crayon in the crayon tin. Being older, he was at that stage in physics where you learn about light, so extrapolating from the process whereby white light is created, he assured me that if I used ALL my crayons on top of each other, I would get a white colour. He was only teasing, as was his wont, but I followed his instructions to the letter and was crestfallen to end up instead with a decidedly muddy and unappealing shade of brown. Which taught me the valuable life lesson that using everything in your armoury at once - 'everything but the kitchen sink'-style - isn't always a good idea. It is still apparently true of light, mind...well, if you mix the primary colours of red, blue and green at least.

Fast forward to the mid-1980s. Of my 700+ friends on Facebook, there is only one, a Simon Staddon, who probably won't be reading this - unless I tag him, haha - who worked for the same company as me back then and can vouch for the fact that I was once a coleslaw mogul. No, really. In the marketing sense I mean - it wasn't all mine as such. God forbid, with a three week shelf life or whatever it is. But yes, for a year or two I presided over an empire of £11m worth of the creamy cabbage condiment, give or take a few tubs of potato salad and beetroot in jelly round the margins. And even more briefly, some whelks, cockles and rollmop herrings. Because for a short spell the empire almost doubled, when the powers-that-be bought out one of our main coleslaw competitors (with a side of shellfish) in a hostile takeover. They were dragged kicking and screaming into our corporate fold, and were so fiercely opposed to the merger that the factory staff took the law into their own hands and began to sabotage the production lines down which our products now flowed. You have heard the expression 'p***ing in a pot'? Well, that is exactly what happened. Police were called, and later swarms of management consultants descended on the factory in full-on crisis mode. I could see the writing on the wall for my year-in-the-planning summer launch of a new range, so I jumped ship and applied for a job in Staffordshire. The rest is history, but my friends up here are amused to this day when I say we wouldn't know each other were it not for someone in Essex p***ing on coleslaw.

Contrary to what you might think, that incident hasn't put me off coleslaw as such, even though the fact I had to eat 36 different competitor products first thing every Friday morning so easily could have done, even with the interspersal of Jacob's cream crackers to clear the palate. I still buy the stuff from time to time and can always tell in the first mouthful whether they have used 'aged cabbage', that has been overwintered in a huge hanger in Ely. Then the other day I spied a variety in Lidl that was completely off my radar, and which showed what light years - would they be coloured?/white? - the market had come in 30+ years:

Coconut, butternut squash and broccoli coleslaw

"Finely shredded cabbage, coconut and butternut squash, in a rich creme fraiche and free range egg mayonnaise dressing with dried cranberries."

Are you thinking what I am thinking? This is none other than a blatant case of 'superfood bingo', in which the manufacturers devise an upmarket concoction featuring all the buzzword ingredients they can possibly think of that might appeal to the health-conscious gastrosnobs of Middle England. I am actually quite surprised there are no chia seeds in there. To be fair, I didn't even spot the cranberries, so it would probably have been a waste. For my overriding impression was of a creamy, sickly, very coconut-forward goo, in which the cabbage was evidently too finely shredded to put up much of a fight in terms of bite. Because a tangy bite is the sine qua non of traditional coleslaw, which in this case had been sacrificed on the altar of rich and bland 'creme fraiche and free range egg mayonnaise dressing'. I would rather it had erred on the side of sharp and vinegary, as some of the low-cal coleslaw versions can be, than this inoffensively offensive coconut slime.

Something has gone radically wrong when marketers think that bunging a load of 'in vogue' ingredients into its recipes is going to sell a product. Though I cannot deny that it worked a treat with me!! Fizzy water with a hint of blueberry and pomegranate? I'm there! It may have worked once though, but never again. This was nothing like coleslaw as I know it. It didn't even resemble other offerings on the market that veer towards the creamier, more luxuriant mayonnaise end of the spectrum. This was merely a hot creamy mess. In a chilled food kind of a way, obviously.

Which major disappointment - it is rare for me to throw away food, but in the bin this had to go - got me thinking about whether there are any perfumes I have encountered of this 'kitchen sink variety', with lots of the good stuff thrown in, just too many ingredients altogether to work in harmony, leading to the olfactory equivalent of our white crayon fiasco.

I have given the matter some thought, but my recall is fuzzy, and I would be glad to call upon readers for some suggestions in this vein. Off the bat I would say that Amouage Ubar may be a possible contender:

Top notes: tangerine, orange, litsea cubeba, violet leaf
Heart notes: jasmine, orange blossom, ylang ylang, tuberose, freesia, lily of the valley, rosewood
Base notes; sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, copahu balm, vanilla, animal amber

And also Parfums de Nicolai Sacrebleu, though it has even fewer notes, and Ubar turns out not to have anywhere near as many as I was expecting:

Top notes: mandarin orange, red berries
Heart notes: carnation, tuberose, cinnamon, jasmine
Base notes: frankincense, vanilla, peru balm, sandalwood, tonka bean, patchouli

I am not happy with those examples - they do smell over the top to my nose, but only Ubar arguably has too many different things going on in it. I tried googling 'perfumes with lots of notes' but there is absolutely nothing out there on the topic! Or not in the first couple of pages of Google, certainly. So please help me out if you can think of perfumes with such a surfeit of notes as to create a nose-thwacking scent overload.


I know, I will look up a few of the older, historical recreations from Grossmith...yes, the effect is broadly what I am after, even though the note lists aren't unduly long again. You know, Shem-el-Nessim and Phul-Nana - that style of heavy, powdery scent from a bygone era.

Hmm, if I can't google perfumes with loads of notes - or remember any! - I am a bit stumped really. Though you see at least where I am trying to go with this. I think the more vintage scents may lean this way, perhaps the odd Guerlain, even. I feel sure there is a culprit in the Penhaligon stable, but don't ask me which. Or another Amouage that would knock your block off with the length of its note lists if not an overpowering composition as such. Or conceivably both.

Finally, my parting advice to manufacturers of coleslaw would be: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' and - most importantly - 'Don't skimp on the carrot!'


Anonymous said...

When Estee Lauder launched Beautiful in the 80's, they made great play of it containing 1,000 flowers! I am sure I read something at the time saying it actually had something like 650 notes, but can't find any reference to that. Even if it really was so full of ingredients then, I would definitely say it's a bit thinner now!

I used to love coleslaw until I was really ill after eating one commercial concoction and this put me off forever. Urrrrgh. I hope it wasn't one of the "pissy" ones!!!


lady jane grey said...

That over-the-top coleslaw reminds me my attempts to use up the leftovers in my pantry, when arriving home from a weeklong business trip late at Friday and all shops are already closed, so buying fresh goods is no option...
(Hm, parfum-wise, I‘ve never gone for those with miriade of ingredients - they always remind me the result of your first try to achieve white : muddy brown - not a scent I‘d like to wear...)

Undina said...

I had no idea that coleslaw can be anything but a side dish in a restaurant or maybe an item in the fresh deli section of the supermarket! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pre-packed variety. But leaving aside the fact that I’d eat that type of salad only freshly made, the combination you described doesn’t sound that bad to me. I mean, I understand that whatever you tried could be horrible, and I wouldn’t think of it as of coleslaw, even if prepared with the best possible ingredients, but I would try it freshly made :)
On the other hand, Ubar is one of my top 10 perfumes... ;)

Speaking of the number of notes... you do realize that those pyramids are an approximation, and most perfumes contain dozens of ingredients. If you want a long list, check out DSH’s perfumes. Or think about Le Labo: those numbers in the names stand for the number of notes used with the main one (by concentration, I think) becoming a name.

Vanessa said...

Hi Jillie,

650 notes is going it some! Though it smells all right to my nose, unless I have only ever been exposed to the thinner version. ;)

I don't think the rogue pots got very far into the supply chain, but am sorry you had a bad experience that time. I have not been put off - I will just revert to classic coleslaw as I have with 'classic' Gmail.

Vanessa said...

Hi Lady Jane Grey,

Oh, I know that scenario so well of concocting eclectic 'back of the fridge' fusion dishes, with varying degrees of success. ;)

I am the same as you, and tend to avoid those scents with shedloads of notes, for the same reason. I just think it will be sensory overload and not in a good way. Sacrebleu Intense is even worse, by the way...I forgot to mention that potent variant!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I had no idea that prepacked coleslaw was not a thing in the States - it is very common here. Well, obviously. I wonder what the market is worth now, if it was about £45m then.

I was curious to try this new take on coleslaw, so it doesn't surprise me that you would also be intrigued, but I am confident you would also find it icky. ;)

I thought of you when mentioning Ubar, as I know how much you - and Portia - love it. Too big and rich for me.

Ah yes. I do know that the pyramids are only a selection of notes - which is why I often find they vary from site to site - plus some perfumers are coy about revealing their hand. But a very good point to make. Still, if I don't know the full list from published sources, I feel I can't really count it in my (woefully slight!) tally.

crikey said...

I'm wary of mentioning these examples, because though they list masses of notes I think they are bloody lovely rather than kitchen-sinky and certainly not the stomach-curdling idea of squash and coconut coleslaw: MEM, MAAI, and Zoologist's Civet. While the latter two are "big and rich", MEM is complex but not one of those two-puddings-at-once type of perfumes.

p.s. my personal loathing in coleslaw is the addition of raisins.

Ines said...

No perfumes come to mind at the moment, but I'm sure I came upon what you mention. Luckily (in this case) my memory of names is bad so I also successfully forgot them.
I'm pretty sure I never had a real coleslaw salad as it's not native here (is that the right word for a salad?). But when it comes to cooking, I stick with as little ingredients as possible but they have to be good. Simple is best.

Vanessa said...

Hi crikey,

I think raisins are a bad addition to many things. The time I have spent picking them out of muesli - I could have done so much else with it! Chocolate raisins are perhaps their best manifestation.

I hear you on the 'big production yet nevertheless successful' perfumes, and there are doubtless many examples of those. I might still be wary, but I know in principle that they may be fine and not suffer from the two puddings problem.

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

I am glad I am not the only one suffering from mental blanks when it comes to this 'niche' category of perfumes, but am pleased you can relate to it. They are probably best forgotten, haha.

I am less surprised that coleslaw is not 'native' to your part of Europe than I was to hear that Undina cannot buy it in tubs in the supermarket. ;) The exception to that cooking rule may be spices in curries. I have seen recipes by chefs I admire that have a whole clatter of fresh spices listed, which I am never going to buy and interact with. But generally, as with a pasta dish say, I do agree that less is more there.

Tara said...

Loved reading about the superfood bingo coleslaw, V and your days as an industry mogul. Tasting 36 sanples every Friday morning must have been quite something.

I think of those big old fashioned floral as kitchen sink fragrances. Something like Joy, though I have no idea if it has a ton of notes.

Unknown said...

This is completely untrue. The true story is this: one of Vanessa's classmates was doing some project involving a deer. She had written "the deer has a white backside" and asked Vanessa how to colour something white. Vanessa then suggested mixing all colours together. Crayons not behaving the same way as light, the result was as you might expect. Vanessa then cheerfully advised her crestfallen classmate to change the text to "the deer has a multi-coloured backside".

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

'Big oldfashioned florals' is just what I was scratching around to say, and sums up the category nicely. For me they usually have LOTS of flowers and every conceivable base note known to perfumery, with a slug of spices for good measure.

Vanessa said...

Hahahaha, Roger, you are off the hook, and the true story - that is now vaguely coming back to me as you tell it - is even better than my wrongly remembered version. This is where your greater age and superior recall comes into its own. Did I at least get the light principle from you though, to even think of suggesting this to my classmate? I was no more than eight,maybe younger, so definitely not studying physics yet. :)

Old Herbaceous said...

Boucheron! Luca Turin, who gave it five stars, compared it to a team of eight pulling a gilt carriage. SO many notes! Va va voom.

cookie queen said...

I make a good coleslaw, preferring the classic combo of cabbage and carrot. Red cabbage is nice in it too. Once a year at Christmas. No raisins. Ugh, the very thought of it. Americans add pineapple sometimes too. Don‘t. I used to love, and might still if I bought some, KFC‘s coleslaw. This is going back years mind, and usually involving a munchies attack. If I remember correctly, they were well known for it. I dunno offhand d about notes, I do have a bottle of Ubar. I neeeeeeever wear it. Should flog it but dunno how to go about it really. Hmmmmmm. Hugs. CQ.

Vanessa said...

Excellent! Thank you, Old Herbaceous, for this fine example of note frenzy. And what a great description too. It was a long time ago but I do remember quite liking it!

Vanessa said...

Hi CQ,

If your coleslaw is anywhere near as mouthwatering as your cookies, I would love to try it. Especially with this added reassurance on the raisin front. I hate it when they put cheese in coleslaw too. That is all kinds of wrong. Red cabbage obviously has its festive place. And now I am curious to try the KFC one, if it is still the same...

AustralianPerfumeJunkies said...

Hey Vaness,
Diva by Ungaro is my kitchen sinker. YSL Opium ids another.Youth Dew by Estee Lauder could cheerfully compete too.
ALL the coleslaws please. Val is correct, KFC still makes the best even though it too has changed over the years. Yeah, load em up with almost anything and I'm in.
I LOVE how your brother remembers your story too but in a totally different way. It's funny because we all experience and remember stuff with our own interpretation. Bet the real story is somewhere in the middle.
Val if you're reading this, I LOVE Ubar......
Portia xx

Vanessa said...

Hi Portia,

Diva by Ungano...oooh, with that name I can well imagine. And the others are also great suggestions. I know how much you love Ubar so I hope you weren't offended by my choosing it to illustrate the kitchen sink principle.

I am definitely going to try that KFC coleslaw. Would be nice with a chicken wrap, say.

Isn't it fun about the differences in my brother's recall? We have talked about it further and he remembers me being at secondary school, whereas I can vividly picture a classroom in primary school that would make me 7 or 8, not 11 minimum. There was certainly a lot of coloured crayonning going on, without the desired results!

Anonymous said...

Following the example of Old Herbaceous, I too will quote Perfumes and suggest Cosmic by Solange, a "mad, three-ring circus of a scent"...AnnieA

Vanessa said...

Hi AnnieA,

That sounds well worth a sniff, haha!