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Tea Party Tuesday: Profumo di Capri

It’s a national holiday here in Italy, and while I was promised a parade replete with marching bands and elderly veterans in feathered hats, the truth is, it’s raining and no one seems to want to go out.

I spent some time on the island of Capri recently (I’m publishing my guide to the area tomorrow!) and the whole place smells incredible; imagine your fantasy laundry detergent plus the base notes of you favorite aunt’s signature everyday perfume in the ’90s with just a dash of brine. Everything smells just like that. It’s enough to make you highly likely to buy ANYTHING labeled “smells somewhat like here.” My credit card statement will confirm this.

Right before I got on the ferry home, I was browsing a little tourist shop for some candied Capri lemon peels and noticed they were selling the island’s signature tea blend. Since I cannot resist coming home with a tiny sachet of tea, it came in a cute tin, and it said that was Capri-scented, I bought 50 grams.

When I got home, I popped open the (very cute) tin and took a whiff. It smells not at all like tea, but rather strongly of Lemon Pledge, a scent I associate strongly with a fear of disappointing my mom and low-stakes accomplishment. A meaningful connection, to be sure, but maybe not the best impression for a tea to make. I dumped out five grams to take a look, and it was not photogenic; the lemon peels aren’t very yellow, and the leaves themselves were unshapely.

I brewed it according to the instructions and…it tastes like Lemon Pledge (or what I imagine Lemon Pledge tastes like had my mother not repeatedly warned me not to drink cleaning products as a child).

Look, sometimes you buy a dud. If you’re in a country where no one really likes tea on an island where it’s always sunny in a tourist shop that traffics mostly in liquors and bon bons, you should expect you’re going to get sub-par tea. In retrospect, I should have heeded a few warnings: one, the importers for this tea are based in Ferrara. Two, the label didn’t tell me anything about the mysterious “té nero limone” so it really could have been anything. Three, the one piece of info on the can said something to the effect of “packaged for the XYZ Brothers’ Liquor Distributors.” The takeaway is that I’m an idiot.

Silver lining? I think I can salvage it as some Delta-style lemon-mint iced tea here in a few weeks when the weather turns around. Tell me of your tea fails, readers! Surely I cannot be the only one.

Tea Party Tuesday: Elmwood Inn Lung Ching Green

A couple years ago, I started hearing about this place in Danville, Kentucky, serving world-class teas. Like pilgrimage-worthy teas. Person after person told me about this family who had started a tea room in a historic house, which then took off big time, so much so that they had to close said tea room to meet international demand for their amazing teas. Finally, when my friend Stuart, a local historian and expert on the Boyle County area, recommended it to me, I got in the car.

If you are not from Kentucky, which I suspect you are not, this is probably not particularly noteworthy information to you. If you are from Kentucky, I can hear what you’re thinking, which is probably something along the lines of, “k.” Danville is small, very small. We’re talking low five-figure population small.  The idea that it could sustain a world-class tea shop seems crazy. Hell, the idea that it would even have a tea shop is, in and of itself, unlikely.

But not only is there this lovely shop, but this lovely shop is so popular with locals and visitors alike that all three times I’ve gone, there’s been a line to get tea. The secret of the super-nice, extremely well-informed, low-key Richardson family is out, and for good reason: they’ve got an amazing product and they are willing to talk to you about it for as long as you’re interested.

They’ve got a whole range of historical teas (be still my heart) that I’ll tell you about at a later date, but for now, let’s talk about the Lung Ching Green I picked up on a recent visit.

 

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Look at that! This is the platonic ideal of green tea, if we want to get right down to brass tacks. It’s a classic pan-roasted Chinese green tea and it’s got a simple, earthy taste I love things like it to have. It’s also really pretty; check out how nice those leaves look! You can tell it’s high quality because of how flat and light the leaves are (that’s usually a good indicator with dragon well teas; lower quality ones will often have darker, less uniform leaves). I got three good cups of tea out of this and it stood up really nicely to multiple steepings. The flavor developed differently every time I added more water rather than collapsing and becoming sadder and more faded.

In keeping with the meeting-you-where-you-are ethos of the Elmwood Inn tea experience, this is an easy to make, easy to drink tea that has simple-to-follow prep instructions printed right on the label, making it ideal for a novice tea drinker who just wants to dip a toe into the uh, kettle of very hot tea water? That metaphor fell apart, but bottom line: this is a great tea if you’re new  to tea and want to try a clear-cut example of a near-perfect green tea, but it’s also wonderful if you’ve got a more developed tea palate because it’s just…really good drinking.

This Lung Ching green tea is available on their website (or in person at their adorable shop!) for $12.95/4 ounces.

Have you been to the Elmwood Inn shop? Read any of their great books about tea? Do you have a recommendation for an out-of-the-way tea shop for me? Tell me all about it! I’m listening.

Dear Fancy: The Deep Cuts

So, as you may know, I have an advice column called Dear Fancy, formerly of the Hairpin, now on Jezebel. This piece of advice got cut from a recent column since this kind of advice is found in myriad places over the internet, but I thought readers of Chronderlust might enjoy it! Let me know what you think in the comments.

Dear Fancy,

I just started dating this amazing guy who I met on OKCupid. When people ask how we met, I get a little embarrassed to say “online.” Should I come up with a meet-cute story or is it socially acceptable to say “we met on the internet” these days?

Signed,

OKStupid

 

Dear OK,

In an informal poll of my highly fun and extremely sexually desirable friends, I found that about 100% of the ones who aren’t dating/married to someone they met either in school or as friends who blossomed into Something More have tried online dating and had some success with it. I also found that approximately 92% of them were somewhat embarrassed by this. Pretty much everyone does online dating (including me!), but we’re all a little secretive about it.

Look, dating is weird in general, and it’s the last facet of our lives we consider mildly embarrassing to do online. Unlike selling your handmade fingerpuppets on Etsy, you’re writing up a description of yourself and picking out your best pictures, tacitly saying, “Hey, largest bar in the entire world, I’m really looking to find someone to love me, even though I’m not perfect.”

That’s scary, but it’s also incredible. You have access to tons of people who could be great for you who are also looking for the same thing. This means you don’t have to settle for the only guy in your social group who isn’t taken by default, and that is a luxury no previous generation of inhabitants of Spaceship Earth have had. Embrace it.

You met a great guy your friends didn’t know already, and if it weren’t for the magic of the interconnecting series of tubes, you probably never would have gotten the chance to do so. Most couples who don’t meet online have super boring stories (“she was in my algebra class” or “we hated each other in high school and he kind of grew on me in our mid-twenties”), so let go of the rom-com ideal of locking eyes with a hot bus driver as you get splashed by a huge puddle on the way to a job interview and searching for each other all over Cleveland. Tell the truth and grin about it. When someone asks how you met, say, “We met on Tinder and I couldn’t swipe right fast enough. I mean, look at him.” I guarantee you that person will say, “Oh! My sister met her husband on JDate!” and not, “What’s wrong with you?”

Yours in Love,

Fancy

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.

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.