Tea Party Tuesday: Kusmi Petrushka

Everyone who loves tea comes to it differently. Some people have a particularly transfixing pot at a restaurant and are hooked. Some people just evolve from drinking oversweet iced tea into more egalitarian drinkers. Like with most things I now like and excel at, I started liking tea to impress someone else.

My favorite aunt, Sheryl, is basically a master class on how to be an awesome human being. She went to college very young, was Miss University of Evansville, and became Dr. O’Sullivan before the age of 25. She then went on to educate the masses, including a young Paris Hilton. On top of all that, she is a world-class dancer, devout Christian who lives her faith with a quiet grace I can’t even process, and a truly awesome mom, sister, godmother, and daughter. That’s right: she’s pretty, smart, athletic, kind, and cool. It’s horrible to be around her sometimes.

When it came time for me to start drinking caffeine to keep myself functional, I was maybe 15 and still definitely the kind of person who wanted the approval of adults. Spoiler: I <3 approval. The coffee/tea choice was laid in front of me, and I picked tea to be more like Sheri and have something to talk about with her as I aged out of children’s literature (this is her particular academic realm of excellence). Because I was the sort of child who memorized books wholesale and repeated them back to anyone who would listen, I got kind of obsessed with tea, and well, here we are.

I knew my aunt was going to be in town, so I grabbed the Kusmi Petrushka, seduced by its truly gorgeous packaging. No photo I took did it justice, so just click around at the bottom of this post to check it out. I am so easily taken in by good colors and pretty patterns.

All casual-like, I just made the tea for her one morning like, “oh, this old thing? Had it forever! Definitely did not buy this on account of anyone else.”

IMG_6219

The color looks great, but this is really just to show you we drank these side by side.

This comes in bag and loose on the website, but the only had bag at the shop. Reader, I bought it. I know. It drinks like the nicest loose leaf, though! Promise. They come in these hand-sewn muslin sachets and you can tell Kusmi didn’t stick you with the gross dregs that they couldn’t put in a canister and sell at a premium. Kusmi is an old French company, and this particular varietal is from their Russian Imperial collection, the contents of which look between good and awe-inspiring. It’s a black tea with orange peel, vanilla, and almond notes, and it’s smooth and spicy in the best way possible, like if Earl Grey had a lovechild with real-deal chai. In a surprise twist, the second steep of this is even better than the first, though that trend didn’t carry on forever.

If I had it to do over again, I might drink this in the afternoon instead of first thing, but I have no regrets. And yes, my aunt loved it!

You can buy 4.4 ounces for about $20 here. They’re sold out of this one on their website for good reason, but go to Kusmi to check out their offerings.

Book Club: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

I am a feminist.

Quick definition of terms for you: feminism means you support men and women having equal opportunities, rights, and access. If you think it’s cool for me to write this snarky blog, you’re a feminist. If you’re a woman who can read this, you’re a feminist. If you’re a woman who doesn’t like anything I write ever and then take to your own blog/Twitter/Facebook/local saloon to talk about how much you think I’m a total moron with no taste, you’re a feminist. It doesn’t mean you don’t wear a bra, or hate men, or have to agree with everything other feminists do, but it means that you gotta think women and men should both be allowed to take part in public life and make their own decisions. If this does not describe you, I ask that you please click the little X in the right hand corner of your screen and make your merry way back to The Chive. Thanks in advance.

I was at a conference in New York a few weeks ago, and this badass literary agent, Janet, was going on and on and on about Bad Feminist and how we had to read it. I am in equal parts in awe of Janet’s terrified to disappoint her and intellect and humor, so I ran straight to a SoHo bookshop and grabbed a copy. I knew Roxane Gay’s work from meeting her once at some cocktail thing and following her hysterical live tweeting of Ina Garten’s show(s), so I was jazzed to read this.

Bad Feminist

Out of the gate, she deployed this neat rhetorical trick that’s going around the non-fiction world right now like chicken pox at Chuckie Cheese. She isn’t that well-versed in feminist writing and theory, she tells us, but knows she’s a feminist (see above definition) without that. My academic grounding in feminism is limited to some undergrad coursework and a graduate-level seminar, so I relate to that. I feel out of my depth when I talk about feminism with my friends who majored in gender studies all the time! I think that’s pretty common. She feels, though, like a bad feminist because she likes to wear dresses and bake and watch the always-horrifying Law&Order:SVU. As I write this, I am eating a muffin I baked this morning and wearing not only a skirt but a puffy one. I don’t feel like this puts me at odds with advocating for my access to services, but I get that this feels different for different people. Still, I don’t think declaring yourself an unreliable narrator in your own memoir is a workable solution.

The book is divided into several sections clumped loosely by theme. The essays within are sometimes barely more than a couple pages, and sometimes what most people would consider a chapter. Like all small pieces of art that are asked to stand together, some are better than others. Let’s start with the good, shall we? She plays competitive Scrabble, and describes the people she meets and vanquishes in a way that made me ROFL IRL. It also made me want to never, ever play Scrabble again. Her vivid, brave description of her own gang rape as a child was a straight gut punch. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone discuss their own trauma so eloquently. The way she talked about her immigrant family was both touching and insightful without being saccharine. I loved these polished bits, both grim and light.

But the bad, man. The bad was pretty bad. There were a ton of passages in sore need of an editor; I found some easy-to-fix stuff that was just lazy editing. Since almost all of this had been previously published elsewhere, she’s had at least three people take a look at this, none of whom took out errant commas or adverbs. I know, this is rich coming from me, but this is a blog I write for fun. At work, I go through and turn n-dashes into m-dashes and consult my dogeared MLA guide constantly.

Most of the things that touched on feminism in the media, rape culture, and race in America were hot takes. She’d look at something like the music she loves to dance to, point out something salient about how degrading it was to women, say she still liked to get down to Robin Thicke, and then move on. She’d get right up against pushing through why she liked all the procedural cop shows that are, about women getting sexually assaulted, then stop short. The door was there. She tested the knob and found it unlocked. There’s so much to say about all these things that’s needs to get said, and she’s got the platform, background, and intellect to do so. I really wanted to hear what she thought about Trayvon Martin, about rap videos, about beer commercials. I felt let down by her saying, “okay, I like makeup! I’m a bad feminist!” and leaving it there. Especially because that has nothing to do with feminism.

Look, I get feeling estranged from the most verbal of our feminist sisters and brothers. I get feeling a little weird about having a candy dish on my desk. I’ve been called bossy and pushy and slutty and bitchy and whatever other gendered adjectives you can think of and felt mad at myself for internalizing it rather than recognizing it for the bigoted bullshit it is. I was hoping she’d have something more to say that, “that felt bad to me, too.”

So what did you think? I know I’m the only person who didn’t like this book, and I’m almost scared to say this out loud. Thoughts? Tell me why I’m wrong.

Next week, I’m reading this. Join me!

Serial Addictions

Are you doing something right now? Stop this instant and listen to Serial. I am thisclose to taking all my dollars directly to Baltimore and helping them solve this mystery.

Revenge of the #Basics: Pumpkin Risotto

Confession: I don’t like pumpkin spice _______. I tried one of those latte things at Starbucks last autumn for the first time, and I thought it was kind of gross. I was excited for what I thought would be a pumpkin-flavored coffee, and instead it was cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and a lot of sugar.

I love pumpkin, though. Like eggs or sandwiches, it’s unfairly categorized as a thing that is to be eaten and prepared just one way. Eggs are for breakfast. Sandwiches aren’t for dinner. Pumpkins are for sweets. Rubbish, I say.

IMG_5263

Risotto isn’t nearly as hard to make as people seem to believe, which is great for you: when you make it, everyone acts very impressed.  Even though it isn’t very photogenic, it is kind of of sexy. Seasonal and filling, this pumpkin take I invented has been a big hit with everyone I made it for. My best friend is convinced this is how she sealed the deal with her new boyfriend, so strong is the allure of a savory pumpkin dish.

Continue reading

Book Club: How to Build a Girl

This week, Cosmopolitan asked me to interview Caitlin Moran, the Times of London columnist and author of several books about contemporary feminism. It was so much goddamned fun I don’t even have a word for it. Funny, self-effacing, profane, and simultaneously very polite. we spent a fun hour chatting about her newest book, How to Build a Girl, the first in a fictional trilogy.

How to build a girlWhile I’m deeply tempted to say this is not a book for kids, it completely and totally is. Sex, masturbation, rampant teenage horniness, drug use, negligent parenting, partying with and like rockstars: the Parents Television Counsel’s top concerns are all here, and it encapsulates perfectly how uncool, lonely, and weird you feel as you figure out who you’re going to be when you grow up. How to Build a Girl tells the story of a young girl from a big family in an industrial town in England in the early 90s. Poor, chubby, and friendless, she embarks on a journey of self-improvement and self-discovery that mirrors Moran’s own. After winning a poetry contest as a preteen, she realizes that being a good, incisive writer is her ticket out of loneliness, poverty, and her not-great Midlands hometown.

I was a pretty uncool preteen who didn’t have a lot of friends and was a little bit chubby. Like our heroine, Johanna, I won a writing contest at the age of twelve and started writing record reviews for money at about age sixteen. Like her, I grew up, figured out how to dress myself, made friends, and became a writer. How to Build a Girl, coupled with Moran’s other, non-fiction books, is something like an “It Gets Better” project for self-loathing, awkward kids. What I appreciated about Moran’s Johanna is how little time is spent feeling pity for her being a loner. Indeed, it’s positioned as a great way to have time to read, listen to cool records, and dream about your awesome, fun-filled future. The book’s arguing the virtue of playing a long game, which is the number one thing I wish I could tell my twelve-year-old self. Twelve year olds, if you are reading my blog: You are not going to be a loser forever and I am living proof of this. After all, I get to interview women like Caitlin Moran for money, and the boys who didn’t want to kiss me and the girls who made fun of me are pretty boring humans who still haven’t read Moby Dick or gone to Africa or worn dark purple lipstick.

It’s refreshing to see a novel about a teenager that deals with teen sexuality frankly and directly. Other than Forever by Judy Blume, I can’t think of another book that is so unflinching. I’ve been watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer of late, and it stands in stark contrast to How to  Build a Girl. On the one hand, you’ve got virginal Buffy Summers who literally takes her boyfriend’s soul away the first time they Do It (which only happens after two seasons of boring will they/won’t they buildup). On the other, you’ve got Johanna masturbating in her twin bed, trying desperately to offload her first kiss on anyone who will have her. Once she manages that, she never, ever mentions this boy (“The Kisser”) again, mostly because it just wasn’t that big a deal. One of these things is a lot more realistic a depiction of how you feel as you figure out your own sexuality, and it’s not the one with vampires.

If I had a little(r) sister, I would give her this book so hard (my sister is too old for this to be the revelation it would be to a teenager). It celebrates the self-determination that you have as a preteen and teenager, instead of treating that unformed state as something feral that requires taming. If you know a teenage girl, I think it’s important for you to look at her and say, “if you don’t like who you are, just make a new you. Work hard, be kind, and focus on the future. Draw a new face on top of your face if you want to.” That’s what I did, and that’s what Caitlin Moran did, and that’s what Johanna does. I’m excited to see where the next two books take her, and I can’t wait to give this book to the next uncool teenage girl I meet.

Lazy Sunday: 28 September 2014

I’ve been derelict in my Lazy Sunday postings of late, so please take these lovely things read by way of apology.

Tea Party Tuesday: Bellocq Breakfast

Whenever I have something that is very, very expensive, I am consumed with a perverse desire for it to be mediocre. Not bad, exactly– I don’t want to be miserable– but I want it to be just “meh” enough that I can justify skipping Lululemon yoga pants in favor of Target ones, or Bojangles’ fried chicken in place of Thomas Keller’s. That said, I had aggressively, assertively low hopes for this week’s pick. Behold: the $37 blended breakfast tea from Bellocq Tea Atelier.

IMG_3721

I bought this ON CLEARANCE.

Laying aside the fact that it is silly to call a tea shop an “atelier,” I was extremely disappointed. I wanted this to be no better nor worse than any other nice breakfast tea I’d had– better than Tazo or Celestial Seasonings, maybe on par with something from Teavana. Nope. This Ceylon/Assam/Yunnan blend is pretty much a dream.

IMG_3722

Look at how twiggy those leaves are! It smells like toast, but in a really nice way.

Breakfast blends take a lot of flak in the tea world for being the Uggs/Nike Shorts/French manicure of the beverages, but you know, a good one is worth its weight in gold. This is a good one, and I paid roughly that. With the toasty notes of a good Assam and the security blanket smell of a Ceylon, it’s just as nice first thing in the morning while you do a crossword as it was this afternoon, when I had it for a treat during a formidable rainstorm. It has an unusually long steeping time for a black tea– five to seven minutes, depending– which I ignored the first time I made it. It didn’t get bitter and the extra minute or two let the flavors unfold and gave me time to do some dishes. The second and third steeps brought out mellower notes, but were still great, which is what you’re hoping for from a higher-value tea.

So now you’re wondering: is this worth the $45ish dollars that it costs retail? The answer to that is probably no, unless you are a great connoisseur of tea. The good news is that you can buy this without the beautiful tin for the price of about $5/ounce, which is a good value for an organic black tea. I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but the tin was why I bought it in the first place: hefty and old-fashioned, it keeps the tea nice and fresh and looks beautiful on your shelf. Unless money’s no object, skip the pretty packaging and just get it delivered to you in the sleeve.