Teas I Didn’t Immediately Love and How to Accept Them

This is not a post about acquiring a taste for tea or anything else. This is about taking a tea that was not my favorite and playing with how I prepare it in order to at least be able to finish a tin of it, if not grow to enjoy it. I posted this last week on Instagram:

I was sitting down to a brewing session of a Korean green tea that I bought on a whim and ended up seriously disliking the first time I brewed it. Always the consummate trusting fool, I obeyed the brewing instructions on the tin and ended up with an over-strong, overpowerfully vegetal, unpleasant cup of tea. It upset my stomach, as strong Chinese green tea often does, and was just generally a bad experience. I put the tea back in my cupboard and tried not to think of it for a while.

Then, I realized I was running through my stock of tea and had to use up something before the new batch arrived. I resolved to try to make something of this tea. By playing with water temperature and brewing times, I was able to come up with something that was drinkable, at the very least, and, dare I say it, enjoyable some of the time. So here are my little ways of playing with teas to make them more enjoyable.

  1. First things first: a gaiwan is your best friend for tasting teas. You can brew a small amount at a time and don’t have to either suffer through or throw away a bad cuppa. If you’re not sure about a tea, play with it in gaiwan first. You don’t have to pile in the leaf; you can brew like you would in a tea pot, if you’d like. But if you do brew traditionally, you get a really good idea of what flavors are released under what conditions.
  2. Alright, now you have your gaiwan and you have leaves in it. Start with a very short brewing time. Sometimes as little as 10 seconds will start releasing flavor. I started with 30 seconds and decided that the first steeping was a bit insipid, so I increased to 45. Remember that the very first steeping also needs time to let the leaves absorb the water from being dry. If no amount of reducing time on your first steeping helps, try rinsing your leaves.
  3. Your second steeping may not need as much time as your first steeping. Drop down a bit if you’re worried about off flavors, and favor steeping many times for short times each steeping over leaving it for too long.
  4. If you’re still getting off flavors with very short steepings, your water probably needs to be cooler, especially with green teas. They can take on an unpleasant “overcooked vegetable” flavor.

Next time you have a tea you hate, try playing with it using these tips before you bail on it altogether. And if this doesn’t work, you can always try adding herbs or flavorings to it. I cannot abide Gunpowder green tea by itself, but add spearmint and maybe a touch of sugar or honey and you have a tasty Moroccan Mint!

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Beauty Review: Battle of the Deciem Brands, The Ordinary Buffet vs. Hylamide SubQ Anti-Age Serum

So I’ve been procrastinating writing a review of The Ordinary’s Buffet serum for a while now. Originally, I was just lazy. But then, I decided to try switching to the Hylamide’s SubQ Anti-Age serum. When I started using it, I thought maybe I’d hold my review of Buffet until I had an opinion of SubQ, since Deciem holds up SubQ as a more potent version of Buffet.

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I’ve only tried two other products from each range: Hylamide’s C25 Booster serum and Hydra-Density Mist, and The Ordinary’s Niacinamide + Zinc serum and Hyaluronic Acid + B5 serum. Of the serums, I find that Hylamide’s serums have a more sophisticated texture, in general, though I like The Ordinary’s focus on simple, one- or two-main-ingredient products so you can mix and match exactly what you want. I’ve had a problem in the past with some serums just offering too much, leading me to skip a serum that looks interesting because one of the other ingredients is unwanted. But “Buffet” is a different beast for The Ordinary. As per the company’s description, the name implies a comparison to an all-you-can-eat restaurant. But even this many-in-one formula remains relatively uncomplicated. It’s peptides and hyaluronic acid in several weights. In essence, this is what SubQ Anti-Age is as well.

The main difference in description is that SubQ Anti-Age is marketed specifically as an alternative to retinol products for anti-aging. This intrigued me, as I’ve been striving to avoid retinols and retinoids in my skin care routine as something I would have to give up if Fiancé and I decide to have a child. Why find something that works a miracle with my skin if I’m going to have to give it up for a year in the future? No, there’s plenty of time for me to experiment with non-retinol products now and save the retinoids for when I’m older.

So on to my own experiences. Buffet was the first serum I tried. As I’ve mentioned before, I have one relatively pronounced forehead line that serves as my yardstick for the efficacy of my skin care routine. I’m reasonably sure that nothing short of fillers or Botox would remove it entirely, but levels of hydration and effective chemical exfoliation will reduce its prominence. I found Buffet to be a perfectly adequate hydrator. It reduced the prominence of my forehead line enough that I felt like it was doing something. But I find find the texture a bit uncomfortably sticky. This is not a serum I would use during the day.

Enter SubQ. At first drop, the texture is much more pleasant. It sinks in quickly with much less stickiness. I actually find it absorbs so quickly that I had to play a bit with how I apply it. At first my skin drank it up so quickly, that I had to apply six drops directly to my face and pat it in in zones to get it spread out before it was sucked in. As I’ve used it over the last several weeks, I’ve found my skin a little less desperate to absorb it. That alone suggests that it’s doing something.

But then, this happened: I was sitting at our Sunday morning coffee date with fiancé and he stopped looking at his phone and started studying my face. I grew increasingly self-conscious and mildly annoyed and asked him what he was doing. “I was noticing how you have no lines on your forehead when I have a lot of lines on my forehead,” he said. Hmmm, I thought. I looked in my hand mirror and noticed that, indeed, my forehead line had faded to near obscurity. Given that I am nearly three years older than he is, it’s likely that any difference in our skin is down to genetics and good skin care. After that I started looking and noticed that I was regularly seeing less and less of my line. So I definitely find SubQ more effective than Buffet and to me it is worth the extra price.

So there is my comparison. I like the Deciem brands because their products seem to be well-formulated and price seems to correlate with activity, but even the lower-priced products are a good quality, well-thought-out product.

NB: I purchased both of these products with my own money and have been given no incentive to review them. None of the links are affiliate links.

Unexpected Vintage Inspiration: Love for a Thousand More

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about vintage fashion, and I realize it’s been some time since I’ve talked about what I’ve been watching when I have the spare time. Part of the reason for this is that 1.) I’ve been less focused on vintage fashion right now and more focused on using what I have so I can spend my money on wedding stuff and 2.) I’ve been reading a lot and spending most of my screen time sharing shows with Fiancé, whose tastes are decidedly different. But the other day, I happened upon a Korean drama online that I’ve never encountered before and it reminded me of something important: Vintage style is not just about the West.

Most of the vintage bloggers I follow take their inspiration from Americana or the vintage styles of European countries, and a large part of that is because they themselves are American or of European decent. The problem of diversity in vintage blogging has been talked about by better bloggers than I, so I won’t get into that too much. But what I do want to talk about is the main character of the Korean drama Love for a Thousand More.

The premise of the show is that Mijo is an woman who was made immortal sometime during the Koryo Dynasty and is currently 999 years old. In that time, she has had many lovers, and all relationships have ended sadly for her. So she has decided to give up on love. But of course, she’s a love counselor by profession (who could have more experience?). From there, in typical Korean drama fashion, the demands of love cannot be denied and our heroine finds herself with a choice between two men who represent different worlds or philosophies.

But the costumes she wears! Mijo is a woman who, from the outside, looks like a young woman who is very into vintage fashion. While Westerners often think of “Asian fashion” as being the traditional styles that are not widely worn anymore, especially by the younger generation, this drama puts Mijo’s dated attire in start contrast with the other character’s more modern sense of fashion. Indeed, not only does Mijo dress like a granny and wear old-fashioned, sensible pumps, she also knits, drinks tea traditionally, and does old-fashioned exercises with the older people in the park.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

And her specific flavor of vintage fashion is drawn from the traditional hanbok clothing of Korea. Her skirts are shorter and she doesn’t wear sandals, but the styling is unmistakably hanbok. Her uniform of a crisp, wrap blouse with a full skirt, her hair tied into a demure bun at the nape of her neck is utterly relatable to someone who has found their own Western-style vintage uniform.

Meanwhile, her makeup would not be out of place on Empress Ki. She wears minimal eye makeup and occasionally has her lips stained a slightly brighter shade of pink, but always within the bounds of tradition. And all of this happens in contrast to the other characters, who present a modern, trendy picture of Korean fashion.

I haven’t made a secret of the fact that I’ve found myself drawn to Korean-style beauty routines over the last year, and anyone who reads this blog knows that my tea appreciation spans the globe, but this drama has now reopened my eyes to the beauty of Korean-inspired vintage fashion. Watching true period dramas is fun and beautiful, but not terribly practical. Love for a Thousand More takes the beauty of period Korean clothing and fits it nicely into a more modern world. Perhaps I shall consider adding some of that inspiration to my own wardrobe in the future.

[Image Source]

Weekend Meal Prep, plus Navy Bean and Potato Soup Recipe

As you may know, I’ve undertaken to eat healthier lately. To this end, since my latest show closed and I’ve found myself with more free time on the weekends, I’ve started prepping food for the week. I’ve found that it’s much easier to eat healthfully if I have easy, delicious, healthy options at hand, rather than having to wake up and spend time prepping a lunch in the morning. Bentos are adorable and delicious, but my patience with spending 20 minutes in the morning wears thin rapidly, particularly in the dead of winter, where we are now.

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Because the aforementioned winter has continued to be cold enough, I find that hot lunches are preferable, and what is more comforting than soup? The past few weeks, I’ve been prepping a big batch of a hearty soup and freezing it in jars. Then, I need only remember to take a jar out of the freezer the night before and pop it into my bag before heading to work.

I’ve also found that breakfasts happen more regularly, and with fewer croissants guiltily acquired from the cafe near the train station, if I prep a little ahead of time. This weekend, I made two berry-yogurt smoothies (I can make another two on my work-from-home day mid-week) and a batch of pumpkin muffins. The muffin will defrost quickly to eat as I get ready, and the smoothie will thaw slowly in my bag as I go to work, making an ideal second breakfast at my desk.

But back to the soup. This navy bean and potato soup was designed particularly to push iron and potassium into my diet, nutrients that I apparently lack, as I’ve discovered by charting some of my intake. Over the last week, I’ve made a concerted effort to increase both and have found a positive effect on my mood and energy levels. Of course, not being out until all hours at tech rehearsals and performances may also help. Whatever the case, the soup is delicious, filling, and relatively cheap to make.

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Navy Bean and Potato Soup
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

3 thick strips of bacon, chopped
1 sweet onion, diced
1 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp smoked hot paprika
1 can of navy beans, drained
3 cups of chicken broth (I used a long-simmered bone broth)
2 medium red potatoes, diced
1 10-oz package of frozen cut-leaf spinach
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Saute the bacon until the fat starts to render out. Add the onion, and saute until translucent and starting to brown.
  2. Add the spices, beans, and broth. Simmer for 15 minutes or so.
  3. Add the potatoes and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
  4. Add the spinach and cook through. Season to taste.
  5. To freeze, spoon into 16-oz jars or containers and seal tightly. Chill in the fridge and then freeze.

Beauty Review: Herbivore Phoenix Regenerating Facial Oil

…or “Several Hundred Words about a Completely Frivolous and yet Marvelous Skin Care Purchase.”

https://flic.kr/p/RCJbVN

Hello, lovelies! It’s Monday and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to talk about this beautiful facial oil, which I love. But I would like to start out this review by admitting that this was a completely frivolous purchase and even though I love it, I will probably not be repurchasing it, as I have a new skin care love (which will get its own review possibly next week). Also, as this isn’t a beauty blog, per se, this will not be a terribly useful review of the product as an anti-aging product.

So. This oil. Look at it. It’s just so beautiful, from the color to the simple-yet-elegant packaging, to the whole experience. I have to say, my favorite thing about it is the scent. It smells absolutely gorgeous. Like a garden boudoir full of flowers, which is absurd because a garden boudoir would not be very private, now would it? Perhaps if you had very tall fences…

But I digress. I bought this facial oil while in the market for something a bit fancier than my standard rose hip seed oil. Something with a bit of scent to it, but without artificial fragrance. Something with a blend of oils. And, because I am a bit silly, something in a beautiful bottle that would grace the top of my vanity with its loveliness.

I had a Sephora account and an embarrassing level of spending in 2016 already, so this was one of the things I bought to push me over the edge once more into premium membership territory. My spending will have to calm down eventually, but last December was not that time. And I did buy my mother Estee Lauder for Christmas, so I’m not entirely selfish.

Anyway, the label appeal of this oil is the blend of exotic oils, including my beloved rose hip oil, with very, very little in the way of filler (the closest to a “filler oil” would be the jojoba that is second on the ingredient list), plus CoQ10 (a rather expensive antioxidant) and some floral essential oils. The scent is a blend of rose and neroli oils, which lends it that sexy floral experience. And because the oils are mostly high-linoleic oils, they absorb quickly and are less likely to exacerbate any breakouts I might be dealing with.

I have to say, I find the experience of this oil lovely. My preferred way of using it was to apply 6-8 drops in the palm of my hand, warm it briefly, and then press and massage it into my skin before applying my night cream. It doesn’t lend itself much to massage, as it does absorb very, very quickly, but it is just a lovely texture. And I did notice that I had a much more pronounced “glow” the next morning after using this than from rose hip oil alone.

My other favorite use for this (and likely the continuing use, as I’ve replaced it in my evening routine) is to apply it before taking the train downtown for my early-morning barre class. Before barre, I like to wash my face, apply vitamin C serum, but then I don’t use sunscreen, as it is still dark outside until after I’ve left the gym. So I apply 3-5 drops to steel my face against the cold. Plus, I tend to tent my hands over my nose before applying it to inhale the beautiful fragrance.

And I suppose that is all that can reasonably be said about this oil. It is lovely, but if you’re not in the market for a splurge, there are other ways to get your oily glow on. But if you are in the market, it is a lovely floral experience.

NB: I purchased this with my own funds and was not provided any incentive to review it, favorably or otherwise.

My Go-To Hair Care Routine

For those of you who read my review of Deciem’s Hair is Fabric line last week, check back to see an update. The short version is that I’m probably not going to keep using them. But I thought I’d share a bit of what I have been using for a while and does work well for my hair.

So, to briefly recap my hair background: I have very long, thick, straight hair. My scalp hates conditioner, but my length needs nourishment and moisture. So I’m pretty well stuck with a 2-step process of wash+condition. But then, that’s what many of us do anyway, so it’s not terribly tedious. I have learned some tricks from my years on long hair care forums, as well as by trial and error (so much error).

First of all, I’ve said my scalp hates conditioner. It also hates sulfates (my entire body does), castor oil, and anything with a high pH. I used to try to wash my hair with soap. That did not go well. My length loves deeply moisturizing oils and doesn’t need much in the way of silicones to keep it tangle-free. But my skin doesn’t get along with coconut oil, shea butter, or olive oil, so I try to avoid these in my conditioners in order to prevent body breakouts.

I tend to wear my hair up or back every day. I try to alternate between a bun and a braid so that I don’t end up with tension spots, but also because sometimes putting my hair up in a bun is enough to start a headache, which will invariably turn into a migraine for me. My hair is about down to my mid-back and bothers me when I wear it down. It also likes to get caught in things and occasionally attacks passers-by.

So on to the products. For the past few months, I have been using and loving the Skylake Herbal Cool Shampoo and the Skylake Silk Cocoon Conditioner, both from a Korean brand, and both available at Mishibox, which is practically in my backyard, so shipping is quick. I’m not thrilled by the scent of the conditioner, as the jasmine is augmented with much ylang ylang, which isn’t my favorite. But for now, it leaves my hair gorgeous and doesn’t irritate my scalp.

I wash by first washing my scalp with shampoo, rinsing, and then putting conditioner just on the length of my hair (about from the ears down). Then, I put my hair up with an acrylic hair fork and do the rest of my shower. Maybe on the weekend, I’ll give it extra time while I shave my legs. Then, rinse, give it a quick blot with a towel, and twist up in my Aquis Lisse turban towel. I’ve started washing my hair at night, usually either right before or right after dinner, so I can leave my hair up while I do skin care, and then let my hair loose to dry for an hour or so before bed. Then, I either put it up in a loose scrunchie bun or a braid before bed.

I do sometimes oil my hair, though lately I’ve been lazy about that. I love my NightBlooming custom oil blend (which became the Frostfall Flowers monthly oil blend). It’s a blend of nourishing base oils, plus fragrant floral oils, and a little vetiver and frankincense to keep things interesting. But more often than not, I just use a bit of Japanese camellia oil. Three drops of oil worked through the ends is all I need. And on barre class days, I’ll use a little Klorane dry shampoo to soak up sweat before going to work.

And that’s it. Lately, I’ve been getting the itch to cut my hair shorter, and I’ve also been considering going fragrance-free in my hair products, as I’ve developed a bit of a patch of eczema on one ear. So far, the Skylake products don’t seem to irritate it, but I don’t rightly remember when it popped up, so who knows? But that’s my basic hair care routine.

NB: I have not been offered any freebies or incentives to discuss any of the products mentioned, nor are any of the links affiliate.