In my Queue: The Paradise

One thing that is nice about watching mostly Netflix is that their algorithm for recommending things is generally better than my friends’ recommendations. Specifically, since I like things that are British and/or full of lovely costumes, I get a lot of recommendations for British costume dramas. The most recent suggestion I took was The Paradise, a Victorian-set drama about an early department store in a northern English town. It’s based on a novel by Emile Zola, although his story was set in France.

It focuses primarily on the character of Denise, a young woman from a small Scottish village who comes to live and work with her uncle, a draper, only to find that his store is barely staying afloat, so she has to take a position at the new department store, the Paradise. It’s a lot like Downton Abbey or Upstairs, Downstairs only in a store, not a manor house. It’s actually really interesting because the class dynamics include more about the merchant class, which seems to straddle a bit of a line, no doubt due to the original French material. But my favorite thing about The Paradise is that the story focuses so much on the women’s stories, rather than making everything about the men who, admittedly, would have dominated most of business life in that day and age.

But, seriously, this is a costume drama, so let’s talk about costumes. From the opening sequence, it becomes clear that The Paradise is about eye candy. The costumes are not only beautiful, they add to the feel of the show. From the elegant but understated attire of the shop girls to Moray’s somewhat flamboyant suits and waistcoats to Lady Katherine Glendenning’s dresses, the attire fits the characters. In season two, Lady Katherine finds herself in mourning (half mourning?) for most of the season and her attire becomes darker and more severe. And despite the fantastic costumes, I love that she wears dresses more than once. A real Victorian lady, no matter how wealthy, would not have had a new dress every single day without repeat. It just adds that special something.

My only complaints are twofold: the quick cancellation and the treatment of Lady Katherine in the second season. The show had only two seasons and, while it comes to a satisfying end, it still left me wishing I could see what happened next. It was not enough time spent with the characters they’d developed. Finally, I was displeased with how the plot treated Lady Katherine in the second season. She had been set as one of the antagonists to sweet, blonde Denise in the first season, and her plotline in the second season almost seemed like punishment, when really her only “crime” was to reach for what she wanted, contrary to society’s strictures. But some of her strength eventually came through and she remains a wonderfully flawed character.

I highly recommend The Paradise for a few weeks of eye-candy and Victorian period enjoyment. Perhaps someday something like it will come back.

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On Being the Tea-Drinker in a Coffee Culture

I work in an office where most of the inhabitants drink coffee every day, often multiple times a day. I came from an office that was the same, and a previous office that was the same. The field in which I work is highly coffee-dominated. Coffee-saturated, even. So I am often the lone holdout, eschewing coffee in favor of tea as my caffeine and hot drink of choice. And I’ve gotten some comments about my habits.

I don’t dislike coffee, or have anything against coffee. But I greatly prefer tea on a daily basis, and I also have some health issues that are exacerbated by coffee and not as much by tea. So I have become an avowed tea-drinker on all but the rarest occasion.

And it stands out. For one thing, I don’t patronize the communal coffee machine. There are those who make their own coffee and don’t drink communal coffee, but for the most part, the coffee drinkers in a professional environment gather around their machine. My only machine is an electric kettle on my desk. Other than that, my paraphenalia is decidedly low-tech, consisting of leaves, cups, strainers, and spoons. A timer on my phone to time the steep.

I suppose the difference is not so much coffee vs. tea, as it is that I prefer a private ritual to a social one. But even that is not quite right, for I recently found another tea-drinker in my office and we spent a good long time talking tea. I had missed somewhat of the social aspect. But as an introvert, I appreciate my time each day to do my own ritual and sip my tea in relative solitude in my cubicle.

And I’ve written before how just making a cup of tea becomes a kind of break in my day, the specificity of the process is almost a meditation. But apart from that, there is the fact that I am “other” in some way. I could sit with the group and chat over my cup of tea rather than their coffee, and the social aspect would remain. But the fact remains that when someone offers me a coffee I generally decline. And there is a bit of a hit in that, professionally, as you become that weird person who doesn’t drink coffee.

So I go on my way and I try not to stick out in the wrong ways, and I try to be polite when I turn down an offer of coffee. And if someone asks me out “for coffee,” I kindly accept and order a cup of tea.

The Stillness in the Cold

It’s been very cold for a while now, and the lake has frozen. I did a lot of walking on Monday. Everything was dusted from the little snow we had on Sunday and was frozen from the low temperatures. It seemed like the world was laying low and waiting for the next snowstorm, which came Monday afternoon and into the evening.

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Because my car was still covered, I decided to walk in to have lunch with Boyfriend, who had to work while I did not. We met at a little cafe near his work and I got a hot chocolate and a panino. We warmed up and chatted and spent time together, and then I walked home, taking a bit of a circuitous route to enjoy the scenery. There was a beautiful stillness about the lake where it had frozen. As I walked around, I saw the places where ripples had frozen in, perhaps from something landing on the water as it froze. In one place, a patch hadn’t fully frozen yet and a solitary duck swam in the lake-within-a-lake.

From home, I went out to the store, where I gathered provisions for the coming snow and walked back home. The first flurries were starting as I got back home and put away the bounty. I bundled into a blanket and a shawl and had a nice hot cup of tea to warm up.

When I woke up the next morning, the neighborhood was blanketed in that thick cushion of snow that soaks up all the noise in the world. Offices were closed and the only sounds were of our neighbors emerging throughout the day to dig out their cars. It was a day for hot beverages and lots of blankets. And the perfect antidote to a string of busy weekends and weeks.

A Chilly Valentine’s Weekend

I’m now on my fourth day off as we nestle in among the snow. Our Valentine’s Day was pleasant, if somewhat uneventful. Most of the weekend was spent keeping warm, which is generally fun when you have someone else and a whole lot of blankets.

I had the presence of mind to put together a batch of frozen scones on Friday evening so I popped two of those out in the morning and baked them. I brought them up with some coffee for Boyfriend and a pot of rose Earl Grey for me. It seemed appropriate to the occasion. Thoroughly fed, we considered the day. I gave Boyfriend his gift, a new board game, and he told me mine would be on the way. And we decided to go out for a brunch a bit later.

We decided to go to our favorite brunch spot, which serves chicken and waffles in a quaint, European-cafe-style atmosphere. I had a lavender soda and we shared some appetizers before getting two plates of chicken and waffles. It was way too much food, but we boxed it up, along with an order of macarons. That left me a nice snack for tea time and us some leftovers for dinner. From there, we settled in for a cold, snowy evening together.

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Sunday was a day of high winds. We decided not to venture out, beyond a quick trip for groceries, so I made a roast chicken for dinner. I seasoned it with a blend of salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, and paprika, and surrounded it with a bed of root vegetables, which roasted and soaked up all the delicious juices. Served with a bit of steamed kale, it was a perfect healthy dinner on a cold, windy night.

IMG_0193Monday was to be another holiday, so I enjoyed my relaxation and looked forward to my long weekend. Little did I know how long it might be!

Drink Your Valentine’s Flowers

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, which means roses, lots of roses. While I love the look and scent of roses, I’ve never been one to insist on a bouquet for any occasion. In fact, the impact on the Earth from the conventional growing of flowers has always mildly horrified me, so I’m content to have rose-scented beauty and rose-printed fabrics, and even rose-shaped earrings, but I don’t generally get a Valentine’s bouquet. We shall see if Boyfriend makes me a liar tomorrow.

But because I love roses, I thought it would be appropriate to offer a rose-themed post today. At the store last weekend, I eyed a bottle of elderflower-rose sparkling lemonade. It was lightly pink, with an elegant handmade label, and a decadent price tag, for a non-alcoholic beverage. It was just so lovely and tempting and I almost bought it. Until I thought better and decided there was no reason to buy rose soda when I had sugar and rosewater and lemon juice at home. I needed only a bottle of sparkling water, which was much more reasonably priced.

I chilled my bottle of sparkling water and then set about making my soda syrup. I decided on lime and rosewater. I mixed sugar and water to make a rich simple syrup, and then added rosewater and lime juice to taste. Be cautious, however, as tasting hot sugar syrup is a tricky and dangerous business! When I was finished, I had just over a half a cup of delicately scented syrup that I drizzled into a tall glass of iced sparkling water. While it lacked the rose hue, it was fragrant, sweet, and the perfect end to my day. And it would be a perfect accompaniment to a romantic brunch or picnic, should your weather be nicer than mine promises to be.

I can forsee this syrup having future iterations. I would like to make it again without the lime juice in order to sweeten lemonade, perhaps made with syrup, lemon juice, and sparkling water. And a sprig of lavender or thyme would go nicely with all the other flavors.

Rose-Lime Syrup

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2-4 Tbsp. rose water (food-grade, please!)
2 Tbsp. lime juice

Mix the sugar and water and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the rosewater, starting with 2 tablespoons and continuing to your taste, and add the lime juice. Stir. Add by the tablespoon to a tall glass of sparkling water to your desired sweetness. Makes 4-6 fluid ounces of syrup. Store in a jar or bottle in the refrigerator for a couple weeks.

Seven Lovely Things to Keep Me Warm

It’s been fluctuating outside lately. We had a rash of flurries and ice a few weeks ago, followed by a bit of a warm spell lately. And now it looks like it’s going back to cold. All this cold plays havoc with my internal temperature, so I thought I’d share a list of things I love in the winter.

1. Tea: Obviously, I ought to start with my favorite beverage. Whether it’s an infusion of my Gardener’s Herbal Blend (not technically “tea”) or a lovely cup of oolong, tea is my preferred warmer. I love nothing more than curling up at home with my hands wrapped around a steaming cup of tea. In the winter, I tend to gravitate towards richer teas: Assam black tea, Earl Grey, more-oxidized oolongs. And I can add a dash of milk to my black tea if I want something more substantial. After all, cold weather demands extra calories to keep warm.

2. My Cashmere Shawl: This is actually Boyfriend’s, not mine, but I think perhaps whoever gave it to him thought it was a scarf. It is in fact a lovely, large shawl that I can wrap around myself several times, or stretch out to cover my feet, when I’m curled up on the sofa with my tea (and, most likely a book or television program).

3. My Tweed Coat: Of course I would love nothing more than to curl up and hibernate most days in the winter, but I do have to leave the house occasionally. When I do, I wrap up in my vintage Harris tweed overcoat. Its only shortcoming is that it has only one button to stay closed and that fell off last week (It really was the most poetic ending to a bad day, actually. I almost had to laugh). But I can sew that back on if the temperatures start to dip more decisively below freezing again. My tweed coat is both warm and professional and when I wear it with my riding boots, I almost feel like I’m taking a stroll in the English countryside, perhaps about to shoot something feathered. Like a pheasant or a grouse. But instead, I’m often just hurrying in to work before the cold nips my face too much.

4. My Gloves: These are a new addition. They were a gift, and I have to give kudos to Boyfriend’s mother for finding the perfect pair of gloves for me. They have a vintage look to them (I even used them in the play I just closed) but they actually fit me. And the thumb and index finger have conductive pads so I can use my touch-screen phone while wearing them. I was never a wearer of gloves, likely because they never fit me well, but these are a daily addition to my wardrobe.

5. My Collection of Scarves: I have scarves for every occasion. In fact, when I was cast as an Isadora-Duncan-esque dancer last year, it was probably at least in part because of the scarf I wore to auditions. The producer said, before I’d even been cast, that the scarf was likely to become a character of its own. But in the winter, I lean towards cozy woolen scarves, in plaids with fringes, wrapped up around my neck to keep me warm.

6. Cozy Layers: I’m going to call this one thing because it’s often worn all together (which is different than “in the altogether,” which would be decidedly chillier). In the winter, I often emerge from my cocoon of shawls and blankets and tea cups to take an invigorating walk in the cold. It’s good for the circulation and I think the complexion (although I’ve never suffered for long from dry skin). But when I go for a walk, I don’t want to be encumbered by too much bulk, so I generally try to dress in warm layers and skip the full overcoat. I generally reach for my cozy oatmeal tweed cabled sweater, jeans with boots, a bright orange vest, and hat, glove, and scarf.

7. Cozy Crafting: Crochet is really made for cold weather. In the summer, I stick to lighter crafts, but when the temperature drops, it’s the perfect time to curl up with a shawl or blanket in progress and let the finished bulk cover my feet while I work.

I hope you enjoyed my list of cold weather essentials. Amongst what sorts of cozy things do you curl up when the temperature drops?

A Simple and Elegant Luncheon

Every once in a while, I want more than a simple sandwich or a soup for my luncheon, even at work. On those occasions, I hearken back to a recipe from my vegetarian days that my mother made for me: broccoli and cheese quiche.

It either sounds overly twee for a weekday lunch (“quiche”) or it sounds like nothing special (“broccoli and cheese”), and yet somehow ends up a little of both. Fresh broccoli is lightly steamed and combined with onions sauteed in a little bacon grease. The smells coming from the kitchen are intoxicating, mostly bacon and onions as the broccoli is not cooked long enough to render its often-unpleasant smell.

A single pie crust’s worth of dough is resting in the fridge, waiting to emerge and be rolled into submission. The oven heats. The kitchen is waiting expectantly to burst into activity. I crack six eggs into a bowl and add a splash of cream, a dash of salt, pepper, paprika, and a grating of nutmeg. Whisking is vigorous but controlled, until the whole mixture forms a kind of creamy, light-golden fluid.

The onions have taken on just a hint of brown from the bottom of the pan, so I turn the burner off and tip them into the bowl with the vibrantly-green florets. I attack the dough. A buttery-rich mass, so simple in its composition of butter, flour, salt, and water, yields under the roller into a pliable, smooth circle. Into the pie plate it goes. I make short and rustic work of crimping the edge, and then tip the veggies into the crust. The eggs pour over, just filling the crust, along with a cup of shredded Emmentaler cheese, a Swiss cheese whose light sweetness balances the heartiness of broccoli and onions. Into the oven it goes.

It bakes for almost three quarters of an hour, puffing up and falling down and browning deliciously. The smell is amazing. And then out it comes, to wait on a hot pad until it cools almost to room temperature. At which time it is sliced into large wedges and boxed up for the week to come, tucked away in the fridge and freezer, ready to re-emerge as a delicious lunch.

[Recipe from Martha Stewart.]

Bedtime Ritual

I am a creature of habit and bedtime is no exception. Before bed, I need to have a little wind-down time. When I was in rehearsals and tech, I got in the bad habit of getting home after 10:30 at night, and staying up even later, so lately I’ve tried to make a push to get in bed by 10, because I have the time to do so.

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First, I turn off the electronics around 9:30 or 10. I want to get myself away, not just from the supposed blue light that disrupts our sleep, but also away from the constant passive stimulation. I’ve taken to reading at bedtime for a little bit at least.

But before I get into bed, I need to do my nightly skin care. It doesn’t take long, but it serves as the official boundary between the day before and the night to come. I gravitate towards lavender and rose scented products, which are very calming. I cleanse with my lemon-lavender scented cleansing balm, apply rosewater toner, and a rose night cream, and head to my bed, clean and lightly scented.

Then, I have a cup of tea. I’m fortunate to have such an attentive Boyfriend who makes me my tea most nights. I like chamomile tea with lavender for before bed because they are both calming herbs, and the flavor of the lavender tones down the chamomile, which I don’t like on its own. I will also sometimes have lemon balm, or catnip, both of which are calming, sedative herbs. If I’m feeling very high-strung, I might have a cup of Traditional Medicinals Nighty Night tea with Valerian, which is quite relaxing, but the valerian does make the tea smell a bit like feet. So I save that for when I really need it.

I ask Boyfriend to leave the tea and a glass of water on my bedside table, and he usually obliges. So when I return from my vanity, I can change into soft clothes, slip under our thick comforter with a book, and sip my tea until I’m ready to turn off the light.

Then all that remains is to switch off my bedside lamp, settle in, and fall asleep.

My Bathroom Sanctuary

I’ve recently gone through a bit of a rough spot emotionally. I was busy, yes, with tech and performances for my play. But I’ve also just felt generally unmotivated and blah. So I’ve decided to organize my life a bit to add beauty and light to it. And there is one place that never fails to add beauty and light to my life: my lovely bathroom.

I love the bathroom in our house. It’s all white, with clean white tile and a clean white tub and clean white walls. I’ve accessorized it minimally. It also had a skylight, which I highly recommend for any bathroom connoisseur. One thing it does not have is a bath tub, but ah well, one can’t expect utter perfection in a rental.

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But I decided to tweak it just a bit to make for a lovely relaxing sanctuary of a bathroom. I’ve decided to try balm cleansing with a homemade cleansing balm (recipe later, if I’m very nice), but balm cleansing requires a hot cloth. And hot cloth cleansing generally mucks up the cloth you use, so it requires lots of fresh cloths and a system for dealing with them.

So I’ve devised a new system. I have two dozen cotton washcloths that I laundered, rolled up, and set out, seven at a time, on the side of my sink. Next to that, I have my jar of cleansing balm, and jars of cotton pads and cotton buds. So every evening, I can remove my makeup, steam with a fresh cotton cloth, wash the day away, maybe tone with something delicious and rosewater-based, and dab away bits of eye makeup that escaped the balm with a cotton bud. Then, I proceed with moisture and oil.

I’ve also found myself muddying my beauty routine in the name of novelty, so I’ve strived to simplify that as well. As of yet, I haven’t settled, but I’m trying one new thing at a time, rather than half a dozen. And it is much more relaxing. I hope to hear about all of your bathroom sanctuaries.

The Necessary Elan for Wearing Men’s Clothing

First of all, I am writing this post from the perspective of a cisgendered woman, so I am referring to wearing clothing that either does not belong to me, or was purchased contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions. Off-label usage, if it were. Ignoring the most very basic rules of traditional fashion with wild abandon.

Mostly, I am talking about stealing Boyfriend’s clothing. He doesn’t mind a pair of socks here and there, or the odd t-shirt for sleeping. But this is about the peculiar style that comes about from wearing his clothing out and about.

The other weekend, for our closing show, I had not had time to do laundry and all my warm clothing was dirty. I had a t-shirt, some jeans, my boots, but no sweater. So I grabbed a sweater from the pile of oversized sweaters that even Boyfriend finds a bit too “relaxed” a fit for him. Needless to say, I was comfortable and warm, which was the main point. I was going to be running around, inside and out, gathering props and costumes after the show. I threw it on with a pair of jeans tucked into my riding boots, and didn’t give it a second thought.

Then, after the show, a friend of mine commented how stylish I looked and how much she liked my outfit. “Oh, this old thing?” I got to ask, cooly, although I did not cop to wearing a stolen sweater. And it got me thinking.

I had just come off the final performance of a fantastic run, where I played the star, and generally got to have my way around the stage for two weekends. I was at the top of my game, and plump with confidence. I think that is what made my baggy sweater and jeans look like something worn with style and flair, rather than just another sad girl wearing an oversized sweater because she can’t be bothered to keep all her stylish clothes clean.

Perhaps that’s true of all clothing; that what is required to look stylish is to simply look like you belong in whatever clothing you happened to put on. But I think there may be something deeper. There’s something particularly stylish about a woman who can particularly choose something that may not have been designed to be flattering to her body, but she chooses to wear anyway for comfort, not as a statement. It’s almost the opposite of the “normcore” trend, where you try to look intentionally awkward. Instead, I wear clothing without consciousness, and that’s when I tend to look at my best.