Tea Party Tuesday: Pumpkin Pie

Hello, yes, it’s me! It’s me. I haven’t been around much since getting a full-time writing job and moving not once but twice (Charleston > Louisville > Italy), but I’m back and I wanted to dip my toe back in to blogging with one of my tea reviews.

Let’s get this out of the way: I am #basic. I am the #basickest. I love Target, autumn, yoga, brunch, and sweaters. I score favorably on quizzes such as this one. We can get into how I feel about the term basic at some other time; the fact remains that I am unapologetically #teambasic.

But I digress: Until Friday, I had never had that basic staple, the #starbucks #PSL. I’m on board with pumpkin pie, pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin burgers, and pumpkin cookies, but I’m just not that into sweet coffee drinks. My sweet friend Charlotte (hi, Charlotte!) took me to the airport, and indulged me when I got a 1/6th-the-pumps latte. Look, I had a buy-one-get-one coupon. Basics LOVE coupons. I couldn’t let it expire when I was on the plane. I know you’re on the edge of your seat: I didn’t hate it, but it was still a little too-too for me.

Rather than let them take my Basic Gold Card away, I headed straight for the tea shop and did the second-most basic thing I could: I bought pumpkin spice TEA so I’d have something to blog about on my blog no one reads. I know, so basic.

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And here it is: pumpkin pie tea from the Louisville Tea Company. As you see, it’s a black tea, and honestly, not a great one. Something the LTC (if I may) does really well is range. They’ve got stuff for people weaning off oversugared Lipton to really hard-to-find teas that will impress even the snobbiest drinker. They will happily sell you something from either end of the spectrum without being snotty or pushy about it. If having extremely high-quality leaves is a non-negotiable for you, may I be the first to recommend many of their very, very fine varietals, but if you’re approaching this whole beverage thing with a sense of humor and want to try something kinda fun, then this is for you.

In addition to the leaves, you get pieces of dried pumpkin, cinnamon bark, whole cloves, bits of caramel, and some tiny pumpkin sprinkles. Is it gimmicky? Sure. Is it good? You know what? It is. It brews darker than I had expected, isn’t too sweet, and stands up nicely to two or three steepings. Pumpkin Pie tea calls to mind bonfires and hayrides and apple picking, and those are all fun things I happen to like. I’d recommend this with a little bit of vanilla soymilk first thing in the morning, maybe sweetened with a bit of sorghum.

Pumpkin Pie Black will run you about $7/50g  from Louisville Tea Company. It’s a seasonal item, but you knew that.

Anyone had been surprised at liking a tea outside their usual favorites? Have you had another pumpkin spice tea you enjoyed? Tell me all about it.

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.”

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

You Should Know How to Do This: Wear a Hat

There’s no reason to be modest about this: I look spectacular in a hat.

I mean, COME. ON.
This is a 7 a.m. car selfie, even. This is the power of the right hat.

Hats occupy the uncanny valley of clothes: they have all the aspects of things one might put on one’s body (softish, cover something up, come in sizes), but a vast segment of the population feels somewhere between uneasy about and repulsed by the idea of actually integrating them into their lives.  Whenever I venture out of the house wearing a hat, someone says, “I love your outfit! I wish I could pull that off!”

I bought this last week when I had a bad day.
I bought this last week when I had a bad day.

Can I tell you a secret? There’s no such thing as “pulling it off.” You don’t have to have amazing bone structure or a certain haircut or be between 18-22 or anything at all. The reason you think I look good in a hat is that it’s novel (if you don’t know me) or you’re used to seeing me in one (if you do).

When I was 15, I was at Dot Fox, talking to my style mentor Sally Bird (I know we’ve talked about Sally), and admiring this big, black felt hat. Since I was 15, I said something like, “I love this but I couldn’t ever wear it! I’d feel so silly about how weird I’d look because I am a teenager and think everyone is looking at me all the time and actually no one cares but I think they do.”

Sally said this: “You know what the trick to pulling it off is? You put that sucker on and don’t take it off until everyone is telling you how goddamn stunning you are.”

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Fantasy Life Update: Moving In, Desk Edition

I know, knockout status.
I know, knockout status. Like the copy room sign in the background? I’m really living it up.

After your bed, there is but one piece of furniture with which you have a real relationship, and that is your desk. I spend a solid 9.5-12 hours a day at mine, and yet I always avoid really committing. This week, I added three major things to make my mark on my open-plan office workstation: Suki the fake taxidermied rhino, courtesy of my best friend, a not-that-cool-but-kinda-cool organizer, and lastly, gorgeous, perfect flowers from Roadside Blooms here in Charleston. Their model is really cool: green, sustainable flower arrangements that are based on what’s available locally in any given season. You just say, “I’d like small, medium, or large” and they bring it to you in their vintage British mail truck. I know. I know! But the best part is that they were a surprise, all the way from Afghanistan! Nothing quite like a no-reason-at-all pretty to make you feel like everything is going great.

 

How do you personalize your desk at work? Pictures? A candle? A terrarium?

The Great Cookie Caper: Salted Caramel Chocolate Cookies

As some of you know, I’m embarking on a cookie adventure for the next couple months. A lot of you have sent me your favorite recipes (though I still want more!), and this one was one of the first that floated in. My friend Clara is still in middle school, but she is one of the most gifted bakers I know. People from Raleigh to Jackson rave about her cakes and pies, so I was really excited when she shared this with me. I’ll check and see if she’s available for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and graduations, but we should probably ask her dad.

The caramel and chocolates are in hiding, but trust.
The caramel and chocolates are in hiding, but trust.

These cookies incorporate my favorite thing: salted caramel. I never, ever saw salted caramel anywhere before 5 or 10 years ago, and now they’re everywhere. I am in no way upset about this development. These cookies are only a little bit tricky, but you absolutely much chill them for the requisite amount of time or they’re not going to turn out. Consider yourself warned.

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Book Club: Ritz of the Bayou

I read a lot. I read a lot of things I like. I read a lot of things I think are very clever and smart. I read a lot of things that I admire deeply and continuously.

I very rarely read something and think, “Jesus, I wish I’d written that.”

That’s how I feel about Ritz of the Bayou

This book is out of print, and its dust jacket is...not in great shape.
This book is out of print, and its dust jacket is…not in great shape.

I was first introduced to Nancy Lemann via my friend Snowden‘s great essay about her fictional work, Lives of the Saints, which I plan to reread and profile at a later date, since it is also a staggering, unheralded work of wit and intellect. The way this lady writes sounds a lot like the way that I think I talk, and it seems like perhaps our biographies overlap significantly, if, indeed, life imitates art and vice versa.

Onto Ritz. 

It’s…creative non-fiction, I suppose. That’s a term I don’t like because it implies that the academic, serious book must always be dull, that research and extensive background is inherently boring, and that non-fiction writers are humorless saps devoted to obscure and facts no one cares about in the slightest. If I could tell you about all the interesting twists and turns I’ve seen non-fiction take, we’d be here until the end of the next Clinton’s administration; I find the term to be as dismissive and insulting as “black writer” or “women’s interest.” And anyway, she hardly sticks to the facts, but everyone knows there can be truth without those.

But creative non-fiction it is. The story, as it exists, tells of the racketeering trial of Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards in the mid-80s and the coterie of attorneys, journalists, bailiffs, etc., that attend to it. She borrows heavily from the style of Kentuckian and genius Hunter Thompson, which is to say it’s a bizarre, heady, colorful, semi-confessional pandemonium spread out over a couple hundred pages. This is, in fact, the only way to adequately consider Southern politics.

Her one-liners, her coy self-reference to beaux past and present, her ability to cut right to the heart of the duality inherent of Southerness: Ritz borders on being a mirror to a culture that would rather be angry than bored, that pretends to be romantic but is really cynical.  If someone from Minneapolis wrote this book, I would be livid about the overgeneralizations, the cliches, and the zealousness with which she pursues both, but she isn’t, so it’s fine. The South, as I mentioned, is like your trashy cousin. I’ll hyperbolize and trash talk all I want, but God help you if you agree with me.

There are two things that I hold dear about Ritz, outside the joy of it, the comedy of the Southern political machine. Firstly, she considers the way that impeachment, and corruption more broadly, changes lives. Sure, it changes the accused, but who cares? It drags bureau chiefs out to obscure towns, it fills the public with doubt, it’s a king-maker for the right attorney, and it’s always a veritable circus that provides almost limitless gossip, endless hours of entertainment.

I love that.

Do we see Edwin on trial? Of course. But you could have traded him out for perhaps any governor of any Southern state in the last century: bawdy, flamboyant, ineffective, shrewd, good-ole-boy, the list goes on. Like I said, it’s a culture that picks mad over bored any day of the week.

The other thing, and it’s topical now, is how she talks about the heat. I love the heat of the Deep South: it’s unifying. No one really thinks you’re going to work during the period of, say, 10 July-20 August. There’s no expectation that you’ll wear a suit to work (or keep the whole of it on). Everything moves slowly, and it imbues each and ever action with a sense and depth of meaning that is completely, utterly invented. Yet the actions you take in June seem so much more purposeful, so much more durable, than anything you do in February. Lehmann talks incessantly of the sweltering, merciless heat, and of sweating, and of ice water, and of the stupid, unforgivable things people do in the heat. It’s 102 as I write this, and I’m considering what the next eight to ten weeks may hold; it’s not pretty.

I steadfastly encourage you to read this; it’s funny, it’s easy, but it’s smart, and it’s incisive. If you like me, you’ll like this. I’m giving myself too much credit, but then again, it’s hot out.

Next week, I’m reading this. Please join me.

The Freakin’ Weekend

I guess what I'm trying to say is I like to go fast.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I like to go fast.

I’m not even going to remind you what I’m doing this weekend. What are YOU doing this weekend? I know a lot of my friends are going to Talladega to see that race; the photos above is from that adventure in 2011. Let me here from you!

Snacks on Snacks on Snacks: Picking a Perfect Cheese Plate

It's intimidating, I know.
It’s intimidating, I know.

When I was in college, there was this fancy cheese counter at the fancy grocery, and the boy who worked there was SO. CUTE. I spent way too much of my college student budget at that place, but it was totally worth it because that guy became my boyfriend!

JUST KIDDING. He had no idea what my name was, but he did teach me some cool stuff about cheese and now I am pro status at picking out the perfect cheese plate for any soiree. No matter where you live, your grocery store probably has a nice selection of cheeses, so take this advice with you when you go to reach maximum satisfaction level with your selections. Many of the nicer shops have a little remainder bin in the case, so you can try really small portions of new stuff for a pittance. This is my recommendation to you, unless you’re throwing quite the party. My suggestions are after the jump.

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Fantasy Life Update: The Classic Muscle Car

This is the car I learned to drive in.
This is the car I learned to drive in!

It is my life’s dream to drive a muscle car. I made that dream a reality this weekend when I picked up my grandmother’s golden ’67 Camaro from storage a few hours away. This may or may not have resulted in my spending the night in a Motel 6 in Dale, Indiana, but I think it was worth it. I think I look right foxy behind the wheel of this sucker. One day. One. Day.