From Thursday Evening

Trader Joes Harvest Blend Tea

Another cup of this tea tonight – grab it if you see it at Trader Joe’s! (It’s caffeine free, and herbal, and the ingredients listed are: Cinnamon, Ginger, Hibiscus, Natural Cinnamon and Apple Flavors with Other Natural Flavors, Chamomile, Roasted Chicory, Orange Peel.) My usual herbal tea drink is verbena leaves, but I got this box from my friend Alexann, and now I need to stock up on more.

Now I’m off to forage the fridge. Tonight’s dinner consisted of a killer cranberry upside down cake, cannoli, slices of cheese, and some sort of iced custard cake with Wellesley folks, but I haven’t yet eaten a meal, and it’s nearing 11 pm.

One cup at a time.

Last year, around this time, I was immersing myself in a challenge at my gym: focusing on whole foods, cooking, improving my fitness, and increasing general happiness. During this challenge – and let’s face it, I love any sort of challenge – I re-dedicated myself to my writing practice. I made a commitment to journal, free write, blog, and to scrap the hundred of drafts, the worrying, the “is it good enough?” and just publish. I largely stuck with it, and enjoyed the process immensely. This year I’m not doing the gym challenge, but I have a nice race lineup scheduled, I’m working on some new fitness goals, and I have a superb positive attitude email chain with a group of women I’m friends with. It’s a sort of low stress, mini-challenge, and I’m looking so forward to it!

There’s excitement buzzing as we transition into fall, and I’m focusing on being present, making lots of things, and sharing them with the world. Last week Martha Stewart posted about organizing her Basket House (yes, that’s right, she has a house full of baskets), and  although I don’t have a basket house, I do like organizing things. My first almost-fall project? Improve my morning ritual, by de-cluttering my mug situation. 

The set-up: My first step was making a new shelf for my mugs, which you can see in that top picture there. Instead of stacking and stashing my mugs in a cupboard, I took the top of one of my metal kitchen shelves, lined it with cute cork placemats from IKEA, and laid out all my mugs in full view. And because the vessel is just as important as the drink, I also introduced three new mugs into the family, to accompany my favorite Japanese cups and my little Heath Ceramics mug. All three, above, are from Starbucks. Yep. Mass-market, on sale, non-handcrafted mugs. But look how shiny and pretty they are! No regrets!

My morning ritual: most mornings I get up and brew myself a cup of coffee. Either a single cup, with my drip filter, or my aeropress, or if I’m feeling like I need a large dose of caffeine, my French press, or if I’m feeling European, on the stovetop in my Bialetti espresso maker. I go through a variety of coffees: Blue Bottle beans when I have them, or a custom blend from Zabar’s, or something from a local roaster – lately, I’ve been digging Fazenda and George Howell. For espresso or Turkish coffee, I usually use Turkish Mehmet Efendi, or in a pinch my standby espresso powder from IKEA. To accompany my new mug shelf, I also organized all of my coffee tools in one place. Win!

Of course, lest you think I’m all coffee, all the time, I must protest. In the afternoons, I drink tea.

Do you have a favorite mug?

Jane Eyre

Let’s curl up with a cup of tea, and talk about my second book of the year. I’m a few books along after this one, but as you might have guessed, I’m a little behind on my re-caps.

#2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Read on Kindle, 350 pages
First published October 16th 1847 by Smith, Elder & Co.
Under the pen name “Currer Bell”
Read on Kindle, as well as listened on audio read by Josephine Bailey

While everyone has been captivated with the newest episodes of Downton Abbey, I’ll freely admit that I’ve been putting off the rest of the series. We watched the first two seasons, but every time I plan to curl up with a cup of tea and watch multiple episodes, I decide that I’d rather be watching the brilliant Swedish version of Wallander, or an episode of some sexy home renovator on HGTV, or better yet, reading a good book.

I love that *everyone* is obsessed with a British melodrama, but I’m annoyed at Julian Fellowes for putting all of my friends and loved ones through the ringer. (Yes, I’m well aware of all the spoilers – once I stopped watching most live TV shows, I came to terms with knowing the plot in advance of most of my television viewing. And since the episodes came out earlier in Britain, I’ve now had not one, but two rounds of impertinent “friends” blabbing and ruining the fun for everyone. You know who you are, jerks.)

Despite my reluctance to immerse myself in Downton, I came to the conclusion that I did indeed want to indulge myself in pithy British melodramas, so I picked up a copy of Jane Eyre.

Mr. Boddington’s Penguin Classics, Jane Eyre via Anthropologie

What can I tell you about this novel? I’m sure you have read it. If you haven’t you probably should, because it’s called a “classic” for a reason. Jane is an orphaned girl raised by a bitter aunt and abusive cousins, and is shipped off for her impertinence to get educated at a hard knocks school for the poor and underprivileged. She makes her escape to become a governess, and finds herself in a long drawn out song and dance with the brooding and handsome master of the house, Mr. Rochester.

I liked the novel, I did. But I found myself deeply frustrated with the character of Mr. Rochester. I’m sure there are some of you who think that I’m a criminal for hating on the Rochester. He even makes ‘Most Romantic Literary Character’ lists. He’s dreamy you say – or at least Michael Fassbender is in his portrayal of him. But here’s the thing. There are hundreds, maybe thousands out there who agree with me.

The internet is full of people who feel the same way – here’s a great Millions article called ‘Mr. Rochester is a Creep: A List’ which sums him up well: “Mr. Rochester, if he isn’t an asshole, he’s a psychopath–or, simply creepy and duplicitous.” Yep, seems about right to me.


Cover Art. You can be sure that the original didn’t have snappy cover art like this (above). I’ve been having trouble finding a cover that I liked. While perhaps overly cheerful, I found this cover to match some of the frivolity of the book, rather than other covers which either feature a somber woman’s portrait, or odd gothic imagery.

An interesting thing that I discovered while poking around the inter webs for this re-cap: A series called Re-Covered encouraging the re-design of book cover art. via The Fox Is Black.

Tea Project: Tea Out or In

Just a few thoughts today.

Tea In:  Recently I’ve been brewing a lot of tea in the fantastic tea maker that Breville sent me. {Review forthcoming}. It’s an ingenious contraption that does the work for you and keeps your tea warm for an hour after brewing without over-steeping. You can set it to brew your tea in the morning as you would a coffee maker, which believe me, feels like magic.

While I’m completely enamored by the Breville, some occasions call for a different experience entirely: a slower, more intentional experience. When I’m sad, anxious, or frustrated, tea becomes my savior. In these moments, I’ll simply heat up the hot water and gently place a flowering tea bulb in my glass tea pot. I have a stash of these teas from Numi, as well as some that my brother brought home for me from Vietnam. They look like little round bricks, and remind me fondly of the pellets we’d make in the Geo lab for element analysis. {Nerd!}

But back to the tea making: I pour in the water. And then I sit. And I stare at it bloom in front of me. Reality melts away. I find my sense of wonder. The moment is mine. It makes me smile every time. 

*                 *                 *

Tea Out: Most mornings before heading in to the office, I leave my house early to park myself at a coffee shop to get work done. I get in line, order earl grey tea from Hassan, whose smile is infectious. I add a small amount of half and half, head to either the big wooden table or the soft chair in the back, and sit down to write my morning list. Once I have direction, I get started on the hardest task of my day.

I’m not sure when I started the habit, but getting whatever I’m dreading out of the way is always a relief, and frees up my mind to work on all the things that need to get done. I’m thankful to whoever tipped me off to this strategy.

In this hour, I manage to complete my work more efficiently than any other time of the day.  It has become my super-charged hour.  Some people work best in silence, but I love being surrounded by people in a public place. The best way I can explain it: there is something about the morning rush that helps me focus – the constant buzz in the background fills up one of the ever-chattering channels in my brain – thus allowing me to tune out this channel completely.

Tea making is an important ritual for me – I make several cups a day as a way to pause and be present. But in this early hour I’m grateful for someone else making my cup of tea. It provides a sense, of relief – a strong sense that I’m being taken care of. It makes me smile every time. 

Tea Project: Types of Tea – CafeNation – MEM Russian Caravan

Tea Project
MEM Russian Caravan (pot, $2.50)
Cafenation, Brighton, Massachusetts

I thought it might be fun to create a list of different types of tea to try – the basis of my tea curriculum. So, I came up with one – that little flow chart in the picture above. Included are green teas, white teas, black tea, oolong, pu-erh, rooibos, mate and other herbal infusions. Some are true teas, others are not.

There is a lot of tea out there to drink. How do you narrow it down? Most grocery stores have a good half aisle devoted to tea. I actually snapped a few illicit tea photos in Whole Foods to see if I was missing anything obvious. It’s always shocking to me how many types of tea each brand carries! One possibility for this project is making it simpler for myself – working through all the teas imported by MEM Tea Imports and Samovar, but that still won’t get me to 500. (Although if either were to sponsor me, I’d be one happy tea drinker! Please??)

So, my goal, I think, is for quality rather than quantity, and making sure to get a good representation of different families of tea. I plan on working methodically, and going on the hunt for some really special experiences.

*      *      *

Another aspect of this project is the excuse to acquire tea paraphernalia. Even though I most commonly drink hot tea out of a glass (just like Michael Pollan, apparently), I’m fascinated with all sorts of tea cups, pots, kettles and brewing contraptions.

I love this wonderful infographic by Wendy Chan on the taxonomy of teas. It includes several tea drinking countries around the world, represented both by type of tea drunk, and the cups used. I love it!

And a close-up of the center of the tea wheel:

*      *      *

And finally, a few notes about my experience. Cafenation is in Brighton on Washington Street. It’s sort of an odd location, but the window ledge is a nice place to read a book and sip a pot of tea.

To drink, I went with the Russian Caravan, and added cream to complement the smokiness. I oversteeped it as I drew my little flow chart, but I never mind a little bitterness in my tea.

Russian Caravan is a blend of Chinese black teas, named after the caravans that used to import teas from China to Europe. It’s deep and smoky, and reminds me of old men arguing and playing backgammon. 

There were three notable occurrences this trip, which reminded me how fascinating humanity can be:

1. I sat behind a fellow wearing big headphones who took out about 25 pens and put them on the ledge, and proceeded to organize them and stick them in some sort of putty like he was making a Christmas Pomander (an orange studded with cloves).

2. A Russian gentleman, who actually ordered Russian Caravan tea and asked for “room”, proceeded to pour what must have been more than 1/4 cup of honey in his cup.

3. Two people sat next to me one table over, hugging. Yes, hugging, in full embrace, for at least five minutes until their order was ready.

And that was it. I spent several hours there, unconnected, computer-less, writing lists and thinking about tea. I’m looking forward to seeing where this project goes.

What type of tea are you drinking? 

The South End, Lekker Home, Tea Pots + LevelUp

I’ve been having a lot of fun “re-discovering” the South End neighborhood of Boston. It’s definitely the up and coming place to live, shop and eat in the Boston area.

The South End has gone through massive changes over the past several decades, and I remember when it was a different place entirely. In the 80’s and early 90’s, my aunt and uncle lived in the South End in a gorgeous bow-front (with my two very young cousins), and ended up moving out when someone got stabbed to death on my aunt’s car. 

But the neighborhood has fought back, and people have come together. Small businesses have been the life blood of this community, and a lot of people took big risks that have been paying off. In food, Hammersley’s has been going strong for over 20 years now, Barbara Lynch has three outposts – B&G Oysters, The Butcher Shop, and Stir; Joanne Chang’s Flour Bakery + Café flagship is here, as is Ken Oringer and Jamie Bisonnette’s Toro (and Coppa, which I’m desperate to try).

In addition to eating, the South End is also the place to shop. Firstly, SoWa Open Market is Boston’s portal to Brooklyn and the Mission: a vibrant market, part farmers’ market, part craftsman market, part flea market. Then there is Hudson – not the jeans– where I might shop I had unlimited funds. They have an outpost in Wellesley where I used to go and covet things in college. And then, among the treasures of the South End is Lekker Unique Home Furnishings.

Lekker is one of those places that has the perfect gift for almost anyone. The store was opened by Natalie van Dijk Carpenter, a Dutch woman with incredibly good taste (lekker!) and curation skills.

The good thing about Lekker is that you can shop on a budget for yourself, or say for a hostess gift, and find some really excellent things. The store is filled with useful and stylish kitchen tools, candles, and local cookbooks. They also have some really graceful flatware and cutlery that I’d like to acquire. Or, if you are lucky enough to have generous resources, you can also find some fantastic furniture here.

I was particularly enthusiastic about that grey Jackson Chair, but it may in fact have been the most expensive item in the store at $3,650, alas.

This time, I got to go into Lekker with a hundred dollar credit from local Boston-based mobile payment service LevelUp. LevelUp allows you to pay with a unique QR code that is assigned to you – by whipping out your phone, opening the LevelUp app, and getting your code scanned at participating locations.

The big strength of LevelUp is that they work with community businesses to offer small credits at each location, and reward repeat shopping by offering better credits the more you frequent a particular establishment. The user interface is clean, and the process is simple. You store your credit card information securely, and can pay a tip with the app as well. In Boston, the majority of the merchants participating are restaurants, but it seems like a no-brainer to expand to all types of local businesses, particularly because of LevelUp’s low transaction fees.

I’ll be interested in how they scale in the longterm, and how they will compete with Google Wallet , Square, and whoever decides to throw themselves into the mobile payment space next.

I strongly believe that mobile payments and digital receipts are the way of the future, and am looking forward to the day when I can dispense of plastic credit cards and paper receipts completely.

After an hour of browsing – dreaming, touching the curved lips of the bowls and mugs, stroking the softest blankets, and sitting on each of the chairs in the shop – I ended up picking up the Hakusan Tea Pot  and set of cups (the white and brown one above, with the stippling on the porcelain). It’s a nice addition to my home, and great incentive to make myself happy with my tea project.

Lekker Home
1317 Washington Street Boston, MA 02118-2139
(617) 542-6464