My Favorite Souvenir from Barcelona

Anyone who watched my Instagram Stories while I was on vacation in Barcelona might have noticed the meal at Bodega 1900, where I waxed rhapsodic about pretty much all of the food. But I think my favorite part of that meal was the part that I could actually kind of take home with me: their tomato salad. Now, their tomato salad were special, locally-grown tomatoes that were served with their house-made feta cheese. But the most striking thing about them was their simplicity. The tomatoes were simply peeled, cut into chunks, and served with a pinch of salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Upon returning home, I decided I needed to keep this marvelous salad in my life. So for the past few weeks, we’ve been eating tomato salad at least once a week. I’m fortunate to have access to a plethora of farmers markets that still have abundant tomatoes, as well as a local grocery store that sells local heirloom tomatoes. So I thought I’d share my “recipe.”

The thing about this recipe is that it’s not really a recipe. It’s all about the individual ingredients. It’s pretty common culinary wisdom that the fewer ingredients a recipe has, the more important it is to get the best of those ingredients. Now, I only use freshly-ground peppercorns and mineral-rich sea salt in my kitchen, so those are pantry staples for me. But if you don’t, this is where you’re going to want to break out that fancy box of flaky sea salt your mom gave you for Christmas when fancy sea salts were the in gift (just me? okay). And get the best olive oil you can find. Again, I have a great local grocery store that recently put in a bulk olive oil bar, so I can get very fresh olive oil every couple of weeks for a very reasonable price, so that’s what I use. It’s a Napa Valley olive oil with a fresh, buttery flavor and none of the acidic bite that can indicate the olive is starting to turn.

And then there is the tomato. I have made this salad with Roma tomatoes, standard slicing tomatoes, and a few heirloom varieties, and I have to say, I vastly prefer the heirloom varieties. I will say that, despite the giant honking tomato in the picture above, it does best with a medium-sized tomato. Basically, you want to be able to cut the tomato into pointed chunks. If I use an heirloom tomato, I will usually skip peeling it, as the skins are so thin, but a regular slicing or Roma tomato will get a little X cut in the non-stem end, a quick dip in boiling water, and a quick peel. It’s not as fussy as it sounds, I promise. Then, you dress it simply, right before serving, and marvel at the masterpiece.

Simple Tomato Salad

Ingredients:

1-2 medium-sized heirloom tomatoes
good sea salt
freshly-ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Wash your tomatoes (and peel, if desired). Remove the stem and white core around the stem, and cut into 6-8 wedges. Cut each wedge into 2-4 chunks. Arrange, skin side down, on a large flat plate or bowl, in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Consume immediately. Serves 2-3 people.

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Tea and a Story: The Apocryphal Origins of Tea

It’s been such a long time since I’ve done a folklore post that I thought I’d get back into it a bit. And given that I’ve been very focused on tea lately, what better way than to investigate the stories around the origins of tea? Tea has certainly gained a reputation as a drink with a certain amount of ceremony and mystery around it over the centuries, from the tea ceremony of Japan to afternoon tea in the United Kingdom. So it’s only natural that stories have sprung up surrounding the origins of this seemingly-magical beverage.

One of the most well-known apocryphal stories of the origins of tea comes from China, where its discovery is attributed to the emperor Shennong, who may or may not exist only in myth. He seems to have been something like an Arthur figure in Chinese mythology and literature, and many advances in Chinese culture and society are attributed to him, particularly the knowledge of agriculture and healing plants. In this story, the emperor has decreed that everyone must boil their water before drinking it for health and safety reasons. One day, while boiling his water, the emperor noticed that some leaves from a nearby tree had fallen in. Rather than discarding the contaminated pot of water in annoyance, he tasted the resulting brew and found it not only delicious, but invigorating. He declared to his people that “Tea gives vigor to the body, contentment to the mind, and determination of purpose.” I, for one, agree with him. The fact that such an important figure in Chinese legend is attributed with discovering tea speaks to its importance in Chinese society.

My favorite story of the origins of tea comes from the Zen/Chan Buddhist tradition. When Buddhism first spread out of India, it was brought by the Indian sage Bodhidharma. One of the great feats of meditation that Bodhidharma achieved was meditating while gazing at a wall for nine years. There is a story that he fell asleep seven years into his nine-year meditation, and when he awoke, he was so disgusted with himself that he cut off his own eyelids for betraying him, flinging them to the ground. When they hit the ground, they sprouted the first tea plants, which are thought to be a gift to Buddhist practitioners to encourage wakefulness. To this day, Zen Buddhist meditation sessions are often punctuated with a cup of tea, and supposedly for a long time, the Japanese used the same character for tea as for eyelid. Personally, if Bodhidharma did sacrifice his eyelids for the origin of tea, I would thank him for it, and find the little Daruma dolls of him, with their wide, staring, lidless eyes, to be a welcome addition to my tea table when I enjoy a cup in his memory.

I thought I’d finish with a story related to one of my favorite kinds of tea: Tieguanyin oolong tea. I’ve written before on a story of the Guanyin in China, the goddess of mercy who became a bodhisattva in Buddhist tradition. One story of the origin of tieguanyin tells of a poor farmer named Wei who walked past an abandoned temple with an iron statue of the Guanyin as he walked to and from his fields every day. Distressed by the poor condition of the temple, Wei began to take some time out of his day every day to maintain the temple grounds and light incense to the Guanyin when he passed by, always wishing he had the means to do more. One night, he had a dream of the Guanyin in which she told him of a treasure he would find behind the temple. The next day, he looked and found a small tea shoot, which he took home and nurtured. When he made tea from the plant, he found it delicious, named the tea in her honor: Tieguanyin, which means “iron Guanyin” (or, colloquially, “iron goddess of mercy”). I love stories of the Guanyin because they generally involve someone getting rewarded generously for simply doing the right thing quietly and without the expectation of reward, and I love tieguanyin as a cup of tea, so this story was a natural finish to this collection, I think.

So there you have three stories of the origins of teas to go with your morning cuppa.

Sources:

  1. Saberi, Helen. Tea: A Global History [link]
  2. “About Tieguanyin Oolong Tea,” Tea Adventure [link]

Currently Listening: The British History Podcast and The Folklore Podcast

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about media and entertainment, but I’ve started listening to more podcasts while I commute again. Since I’ve exhausted most of my backlog of old episodes of Myths and Legends, I had to find some new podcasts with large archives to work through. So I thought I’d share two that I’ve been enjoying recently.

As longtime readers of my blog know, I’m a bit of an anglophile, and since getting back from our trip to Scotland, I’ve had even more of an interest in the history of Britain. So I downloaded The British History Podcast on a whim, and I have to say, I was blown away by how entertaining it is. The host, Jamie, has a similar style to Myths and Legends’ Jason, infusing the stories from history with humor and balancing modern commentary with taking into account historical context. I do think that my favorite thing about the BHP is that Jamie does make a sincere effort to focus not just on the “great men” model of history that is so common, but does shows on other aspects of the history of Britain, including a really fascinating series on Anglo-Saxon period medicine, food, and clothing. He also got a fantastic series of interviews with researchers who were studying the Staffordshire hoard.

As someone with an interest in folklore, mythology, and legend, I particularly enjoy how the history of the island has helped frame my understanding of the stories I know from Britain. I also found the Romano-British period surprisingly fascinating. Despite starting my college life as a classics major, I focused more on Greek classicism than Roman, and never really delved into the intrigue that is Roman history. I might actually check out a Roman history podcast to fill in the non-Britannia-related gaps in the stories I heard on the BHP.

Another podcast I’ve been enjoying is the Folklore Podcast. Hosted by Mark Norman of the Folklore Society, this is a different style of podcast from the BHP. It’s a bit drier in tone and style, and more educational, though it is obviously entertaining enough to hold my interest for several episodes. Norman focuses on the connections and context of various aspects of folklore, revolving around a common theme within each episode. Rather than telling a single story or a set of stories, the way Myths and Legends does, Norman spends most of his time discussing the folklore and tales. He also brings in some great guests for the show so that people can offer a scholarly perspective in their own specialties of study, rather than focusing exclusively on the host’s knowledge and special focus. It’s particularly interesting to hear the same stories told by the Folklore Podcast and Myths and Legends, just as it was interesting to hear the BHP cover King Arthur.

One caveat: The production quality of the Folklore Podcast is not as refined as other podcasts I listen to, and I find myself having to adjust the volume up and down during a single episode, especially when there is a guest speaker who’s volume is much higher or lower than the host’s. But it is a minor annoyance at worst and doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the content.

So those are two podcasts I’ve really been enjoying. They’re similar in content, though very different in style, and they’ve served me well on my commutes and some long plane rides lately.

The Paradox of Long Hair Care

I don’t talk as much about hair care on this blog as I do about skin care or tea, but I do touch on it occasionally. The fact is that I’ve been obsessing about my hair care routine for much longer than I’ve really cared about my skin care. I actually found out about Korean skin care from a hair care forum to which I used to contribute. So I thought I’d talk a little bit about my hair care philosophy again, and give a little update about how I’ve been caring for my hair.

While I’ve had hair as short as a pixie and as long as mid-back, with every length in between, my hair care routine is always based on the care philosophy of people who are caring for ultra-long hair. Long hair is old hair, so the standard advice in the long hair community is to treat your hair like it is an antique lace table cloth. So, you want to handle your hair gently, keep it protected, wash it gently, and don’t wash it more than you have to.

Translated to hair care, that means that, in the long hair care world, people try to stretch out washing as long as possible, and use very gentle tools and styling. Which is what leads me to my title about the paradox of long hair care. You see, a lot of people consider long hair to be a lot of maintenance. I mean, you have a lot of hair, it’s going to take a lot of time to wash and dry. You’re going to need more product to coat it. And you need to spend time to style it.

But at the same time, I actually spend a pretty small amount of time on my hair on a daily basis. My current hair care routine is to wash it three times a week. On Sundays, I wash it with a more cleansing shampoo (Giovanni Tea Tree Triple Treat) and do a deep conditioning treatment by leaving an unscented condition on my hair for 5-10 minutes while I shave my legs. On Tuesday and Friday mornings, I only wash my hair, using a moisturizing shampoo (Innersense Hydrating Cream Hairbath), and then towel-dry it and apply a mixture of hair cream (Phyto 9) and hair oil (Oshima Tsubaki Oil). Other than that, I will occasionally rinse my hair if I get particularly sweaty or dirty, but mostly I just braid or put it up in a bun. Yes, it would take a long time to blow-dry my hair, but I don’t blow dry my hair very often. Most of the time, I let my hair air-dry as much as possible, and then style it gently. The biggest hardship is that sometimes my cat decides that my loose, drying hair is the best toy in the world.

Since getting pregnant, I’ve actually put some thought into whether or not I should cut my hair. But I’ve realized that short hair can have just as much upkeep as longer hair, and since I mostly keep my long hair up in a bun, I don’t think there’s much risk of getting it caught in things.

As far as styling goes, I generally stick to two basic styles these days. Either I braid it and fasten it with a metal-free band, or I put it into a bun and secure it with a hair pin or clip. Both of these styles are relatively quick and can be done with damp hair, as long as I’m careful not to pull damp hair too tight, since it is more delicate than dry hair. So on a normal day, I’ll spend maybe 5 minutes washing my hair, let it dry while I take care of the rest of my morning routine, and then less than 5 minutes to put it into a bun or braid.

But at the same time, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about my hair care routine. I have a similar sense of what my hair likes and dislikes as I do with my skin. So it has taken a lot of effort, if not a lot of day-to-day time. But since I generally prefer my overall “look” with longer hair, and don’t really like to wear my hair loose, I find the effort worth it.

Adventures in Tea: Tetereria Tea House in Barcelona

I recently had the joy of visiting Barcelona for a week. My husband was attending a conference while I spent my days touring around, but I knew there was one place I wanted to go before I left: Tetereria Tea House. I found out about this tea house when I was looking up whether I could reasonably expect to find a decent cup of tea while I was there, or if I should consider bringing my own (it turned out that the coffee shop around the corner from our hotel had a lovely assortment of loose leaf teas, plus almost everywhere served tea in pyramid tea bags, so I needn’t have worried!). I discovered that Barcelona is home to a tea house where you can not only get a decent cup of tea, but you can get a tea session with traditional teaware and a surprising variety of teas. Sadly, Tetereria is only open from 5-9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, so I had a limited window in which to visit (if I’d looked up the hours sooner, I might have tried to stop by the first night we were in town, jet lag be damned!). But I knew it was something I wanted to make sure to experience, so I convinced my husband that we could visit the tea house on a Wednesday afternoon before his conference’s gala dinner that evening.

Tetereria is located a short walk from the Lesseps subway stop, which is on Line 3 (the green line). This made it very convenient from our hotel near the Placa d’Espanya! I imagine it would also be relatively convenient from the Gothic Quarter as well. The walk brings you down some typically narrow European streets, around a corner, and through the narrow shop entrance into a veritable oasis of tea. It’s cozy and has a warm feeling to the decor, with an eclectic mix of styles. About halfway back, there is a small counter where you can order tea to go, mostly latte-style drinks like chai lattes and matcha lattes, and then there are several small tables around the tea house. My husband and I sat towards the back of the shop and were able to see the partitioned area at the back, which is set up like a traditional Japanese tatami room for the Japanese tea ceremony.

Upon sitting down, we were greeted by one of the owners, and given menus. There was a book of available teas, sorted by type (pu-erh, black, oolong, green, white, herbal, etc.), and listed with a flavor profile diagram that gave the relative qualities of different flavors in the tea such as floral, astringent, body, etc. I decided to try a hei cha, which I had never tried before, and my husband went for a traditionally-prepared bowl of Kyoto matcha. We also got some sweets to go with the tea: I had a thin slice of apple cake and he had a rather large matcha-flavored dorayaki.

Upon making our selections (and it took much longer than outlined above — I oscillated among an oolong, a shou pu-erh, or a hei cha for a while), we were faced with what was probably the biggest obstacle we faced: I understand the intricacies of the teas we wished to order, while my husband is the one who speaks Spanish. This was made particularly apparent when they turned out to be out of the matcha that my husband initially chose (i.e., that I chose for him), and he had to decide on the fly which matcha the lady suggested he would like to substitute. I believe he chose the Kyoto because he’d heard of Kyoto (similarly to how my father used to order Merlot because it was the only wine he could confidently pronounce). I was then able to order my hei cha mostly in Spanish (and Chinese, I suppose), along with my apple cake. Luckily, I’d spent the last three days learning the words for foods that I liked to eat!

After we ordered, the tea arrived fairly quickly. Each tea is brought out individually with a cart that holds all the necessary teaware. So first, she brought out mine, with a gongfu brewing set, the pot of hot water, and a small dish of the single serving of tea (I was able to watch her weigh it out off the larger brick of tea while she prepared the cart). She gave me the leaves to inspect, and I noted that they didn’t have either the strong earthy quality of dried shou pu-erh, nor the green nature that I associate with sheng, but instead were a unique experience. Which was exactly what I had been hoping! She then went through the rinse of the leaves and two steepings. One steeping she poured from the sharing pitcher into the single cup, and the other she left in the pitcher. The entire set was placed before me to consider while I enjoyed my tea.

She then re-prepared the cart to bring my husband his matcha, gathering a matcha bowl, whisk, scoop, and a dish of beautifully green matcha powder. I was particularly impressed with her whisking technique and the voluminous amount of froth she was able to generate in a short time. Unfortunately, my husband finished his matcha fairly quickly, so I got very few photos of it, but I did get a taste, and it was a lovely, balanced matcha with a mild umami flavor that melted almost instantly into sweetness, plus a vegetal floral nature that I found very pleasant. He liked it, too.

My tea started out with a lighter body and subtle earthiness, as compressed teas sometimes do, but after the second or third steeping, started opening up into something with a lovely sweetness and depth. There was almost a smokiness at one point. After my initial two steepings, the lady in the shop came around every so often with the pot of hot water so I could keep steeping, which was nice. At one point, she noticed that I was sharing with my husband and let me know I could turn down the water at any point, but I (stiltedly) explained that I thought he would like it, too. I was intrigued by the almost coffee-like qualities I noticed as the session went on, which is part of why I started sharing with him. We share tasting notes when he gets single-origin coffee at our favorite coffee house, so I thought this would be a nice way to reverse that, given that he’s not often present for my tea sessions.

Sometime in this whirl of amazing tea, our food came. The apple cake was delicious, not too sweet, and the perfect amount to serve as a late afternoon snack before a late dinner. My husband was hungrier, which was good because he received a jellied sweet along with his matcha, as well as the dorayaki he ordered.

All in all, it was a lovely visit, taking just over an hour. We probably could have spent longer, but we did need to make our way to the gala dinner for my husband’s conference. But I didn’t feel rushed or cheated. I did, however, leave with a desire to return not only to Barcelona, but also to Tetereria.

My Fragrance-Free/Low-Scent Skin Care Routine

Those of you who follow my Instagram may have noticed that once again, my skincare routine has decreased in complexity. Since my first trimester sensitivity to smells kicked in, I found that even my lightest-smelling products would sometimes bother me. I had to pare my routine down to simple basics that would provide hydration and nourishment, without aggravating my nose on a regular basis. Seriously, I thought I was sensitive before, since I’m prone to migraines, but it’s nothing compared to pregnancy nose.

So I thought I’d share what has been working for me, along with a bit about fragrance-free vs. scent-free. As usual, I focus my routine on proper cleansing, hydration, and nourishment, without too many frills. Since my scent-sensitivity has started calming down again in recent weeks, I’ve been able to add back in a few fun new products, although I still stick to pretty minimal, soothing products.

Cleansing: 

My superstar duo is the Alkimi Cleansing Melt and Jordan Samuel Matinee Gel Cleanser. I use them for a double-cleanse in the evenings and use the Matinee cleanser alone in the mornings. My scent aversions became so severe at one point that even the light rose scent of my previous go-to, Glossier Milky Jelly, was too much for me. I haven’t touched another water-based cleanser since trying the Matinee and I’m about to use up my first tube of it. Now that I’m less sensitive, I’ll probably switch back to use my last back-up of the Milky Jelly, but after that’s gone, I’m switching to Matinee permanently.

The Alkimi Cleansing Melt was less of a love-at-first-sight situation. It’s a perfect example of how “fragrance-free” does not mean “scent-free.” Some “unscented” products actually contain fragrances to mask the scent of the ingredients themselves. Synthetic ingredients sometimes have what people think are “chemical” or “plasticky” smells, and natural ingredients, of course, have their natural smells unless they’ve been heavily refined. The Alkimi cleansing melt is a perfect example of the latter category. The same natural, unrefined oils that give it its beautiful color also impart a mild, earthy smell. Luckily, I did not find it at all unpleasant. Again, I still have one back-up of my old balm cleanser, Clinique Take the Day Off Balm, but as soon as that’s gone, I’m switching over.

Hydration:

I’ve talked in the past about how much I love the Klairs Supple Preparation Toner, and the mild herbal scent from the essential oils isn’t terrible, but I was excited to hear that they released a totally-unscented version of the toner. Now, this is a great example of the first category of “fragrance-free does not equal scent-free” because the unscented toner is not scentless. It has a mild “chemical” scent from the components of the product. I think it smells a bit like treated water, but very, very mild. Plus, since it’s not a conscious fragrance, the scent fades very quickly during application. And the toner itself is just as hydrating and soothing as the original. I use a few layers of this in the morning to hydrate, and I use it as a toner step between cleansing and hydrating serum in the evenings.

For a hydrating serum, I still use the Jordan Samuel Hydrate serum. Have I mentioned lately how much I love this line? I love that the brand doesn’t put fragrance or essential oils in anything, which is probably why they feature heavily in my routine right now. The serum does have a light, natural scent from the natural aroma of the extracts used, but again, it neither offends my pregnant nose, nor lingers on the skin. And it provides a lovely dose of hydration that’s just a bit more substantial than the toner alone. I generally use two pumps of this after toning at night, but I’ve also been known to apply a pump in the daytime if I’m feeling particularly parched.

Nourishment:

For nourishment, I go for oils and emollients. Again, this category features an entry from Jordan Samuel Skin, plus another old favorite. Nothing in this category is anything but familiar to those who have read my most recent routine post, and followed my Instagram routine posts. My facial oil is the lovely Jordan Samuel Etoile oil and my moisturizer is a nice layer of CeraVe Baby Moisturizing Cream.

The Etoile facial oil is beautiful, not too lightweight but not too heavy. I use it pretty much only at night (although a pump of Hydrate and two drops of Etoile mixed together and patted on after morning cleansing give wonderful glow and I sometimes use that when I need to refresh before going out at night, since everyone expects me to be glowing now) after my other serums but before my final moisturizing step. In a pinch, I can use Matinee, Hydrate, and Etoile with nothing else as a simplified, “I’m too exhausted to do anything before falling into bed” routine. In fact, when I was at the height of first trimester sickness and exhaustion, I actually moved my Hydrate and Etoile upstairs to my bedside table so I could apply them after falling into bed in a bit of a stupor.

That said, my skin has been dry enough that, even in the humidity we’ve had recently, I’ve still been finishing my evening routine with a generous blob (maybe chickpea-sized) of CeraVe Baby Cream. I love this over the original because 1.) it comes in a tube, and 2.) it feels slightly less greasy on the skin. I also use a smaller dab (maybe pea- or lentil-sized) dab of this under my mineral sunscreen in the mornings. It’s soothing, protective, and the ceramides are supposed to be good for my skin. And it is utterly scentless.

Of course, I forgot to include my sunscreen in the photo above, but I’m still using and loving the Make P:rem Blue Ray Sun Cream every day. It’s mineral and gentle and has a very, very light herbal scent and little white cast. I even have it on the word of a darker-skinned friend of mine on Instagram that she also doesn’t notice a white cast, since, at a NC-20, I’m not the best judge of sunscreen residue. A quick wash with Matinee, a few layers of Klairs, a dab of Cerave, and a slather of Prem sunscreen and I can be out the door double-quick, without offending my sensitive skin or my sensitive nose.

So there you have my basic, low-scent routine, which saved my skin while I was too sensitive to use a lot of products. I’m happy that I’ve become a little more tolerant to scent recently, so I can try a few new things, but I’m also glad to have such lovely products available to me so I can survive without the things that bother me. Now, if only I were able to start using my Le Labo perfumes again…

Tea and Caffeine and my Delicate Condition

NB: I am not a medical doctor and am not making any recommendations for your personal caffeine consumption. If you have a health problem, of course, consult your doctor for advice. This is just how I’ve handled my personal caffeine consumption.

As I announced yesterday on my YouTube channel, there’s a reason I’ve been quiet on this blog and on social media: I am pregnant again. Now, I don’t want this to turn into a pregnancy blog — I’ve even created a separate blog for those who want to more closely follow my pregnancy and parenting updates — but I thought I’d talk about a pregnancy-related topic that is near and dear to my heart: how I’ve handled drinking tea while watching my caffeine intake.

Monitoring caffeine is not actually a new thing for me. I have another (minor) health issue that gets exacerbated when I have too much caffeine. But since it’s more uncomfortable than dangerous, I mostly just wing it, assuming I’m taking in less caffeine drinking tea regularly than when I was drinking coffee regularly. When I started trying for a baby, I realized that I should probably figure out how to keep a closer eye on things.

Of course, when you look up “caffeine in tea,” you generally get the information back that an 8-oz. cup of tea has 26 mg of caffeine (or maybe it’s 50 mg, depending on your source). And that green tea and white tea have less caffeine than black tea. But then, sometimes you can find sources claiming that green or white tea have more caffeine than black tea. And few sources mention oolong, but mostly assume it’s somewhere between black and green tea. And finally, most of these sources assume that you make a cup of tea by taking a tea bag and putting it in a mug of hot water for 2-5 minutes.

So what if you don’t make tea like that? What if you re-steep your leaves? What if you use more leaf than they put in the average tea bag? And what is the actual variation among different tea types? Well, it’s unclear. Oh, and to get this out of the way: You cannot “decaffeinate” tea at home by steeping it for thirty seconds and discarding the first steeping. There’s more information about it here, but suffice to say that caffeine is released at a relatively even rate for at least the first 10-20 minutes of steeping, so you’d have to throw away all the enjoyable tea to get “decaffeinated” tea from this method.

The first thing I did was to try to get some information about how tea is handled during pregnancy in countries where tea is consumed more widely than coffee. Generally, in the US, tea is lumped together with coffee and is consumed mostly as a drug, for the caffeine. Caffeine is considered a vice, and therefore something that might be dangerous in pregnancy. In other countries, tea is considered a healthy drink, consumed for its benefits rather than as a vice. I did find a few blog posts  and articles about women’s experiences with recommendations from doctors in Japan, and this video from Mei Leaf, but there’s not a lot of reliable information about how tea-loving countries handle advising pregnant women on drinking tea.

But I do know that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists considered “moderate caffeine intake” below 200 mg per day to not increase risk of miscarriage or preterm birth. Most doctors stick to this number and say that it’s safe to have up to 200 mg of caffeine per day in pregnancy. So, armed with this number, I set out in search of a more accurate way to figure out how much caffeine I was getting from my tea.

From here, I decided I should probably consider how I brew tea. Since I generally tend to weigh my loose tea leaves, rather than using a tea bag, I knew I tended to use 3-6 grams of leaf per session. I’ll sometimes go as high as 8 g if I’m doing a flash-steeped gaiwan session. I also knew that brewing time was a factor, so I looked at the various ways I steep teas. Generally, I like to steep for 30 seconds to maybe a minute or two for each steeping, and I usually do maybe four steepings over the course of a day, so that’s definitely under five minutes of total steeping time. If I look at the white2tea steeping guidelines for a flash-steeping session, those times add up to 275 seconds for ten steepings, or just under five minutes. So I decided I would consider my brewing parameters to be somewhere between 3-5 g of tea steeped for five minutes.

Now, let’s talk about assumptions. I’m definitely making some assumptions here. First of all, I’m assuming that water quantity doesn’t really effect caffeine release. I mean, this may not be the best assumption, but at the very least, brewing more tea in the same amount of water shouldn’t make caffeine release more efficient, right? So at worst, my assumption is leading me to overestimate caffeine. Same with water temperature. The studies I found assume water temperature of 100 C, and I often use cooler water. There are studies of water temperature and caffeine release, though I didn’t look them up specifically for this project, but again, I’m assuming that, again, I’m likely overestimating caffeine by disregarding the effects of water temperature.

Okay, on to the studies. The first one looks at caffeine and theanine in standardized brews of 39 different teas, with the standard brewing method being to steep 1 g of tea in 100 ml of water for three minutes. For my purposes, I multiplied their caffeine numbers by two to account for my longer brewing time and then by 3-5 to account for my increased tea quantity. So if I wanted to steep 5 grams of tea, I assumed I would need to stick to teas with fewer than 20 mg of caffeine, as reported in Table 2. For 3 g of tea, I could go up to teas with about 30 mg of caffeine. Almost every tea in the study would fall under this amount.

I also looked at this post, which got some caffeine information from a couple studies, and expanded the range of tea types I for which I had data. The table in the post considers teas that are brewed with 1 g of tea in 100 ml of water for 30 minutes, which is pretty close to full extraction. So all I did in this case was to multiply the reported number by the amount of tea I would use, which is pretty convenient (and almost certainly exaggerating my caffeine consumption). I especially like this resource for when I want to do a special session with 8 g of a nice pu-erh and want to see just how excessive the caffeine would be.

Now, one more note about caffeine in pregnancy: One of the books I got to prepare for pregnancy was called The Panic-Free Pregnancy, which specifically addresses concerns about caffeine in pregnancy. First of all, the author of that book looks at studies of pregnant women consuming caffeine and concludes that 200 mg per day is too conservative and it’s likely that up to 300 mg per day is probably safe. He also points out that, this is meant to be a limit on average consumption, so if you go nuts and have several espressos one day, you’re probably safe if you limit yourself to decaf the next day (fun fact: decaf coffee has a small amount of caffeine and I personally find that it’s enough to ward off the headaches I get when I have no caffeine at all). So I took this as permission to occasionally indulge in a long tea session, without worrying too much, as long as I was careful for a couple days after that. I particularly like Pique Tea tea crystals for the “careful” days because I can be more certain of how much caffeine I’m getting, and one serving of Pique Tea doesn’t seem to ever have more than 50 mg of caffeine. In addition to all of this, Emily Oster, author of Expecting Better, points out that there doesn’t seem to be the correlation between tea consumption and miscarriage the way that there seems to be a correlation between coffee consumption and miscarriage, which suggests that perhaps there is something else at work here besides caffeine affecting things. Take that as you will.

One last thing: there is another concern with tea in pregnancy. Apparently catechins, which are found in the highest levels in green tea, can bind with folate, which could potentially increase the risk of folate-related birth defects. While this study did conclude that high consumption of green tea did correlate with lower folate levels, this study concluded that, for women who were taking supplemental folate, increased tea consumption was not associated with an increased risk of spina bifida. Personally, I chose to deal with this by making sure to take a prenatal vitamin (which I started months before becoming pregnant anyway) and also to offset my tea consumption and my vitamin consumption. That is, I drink tea in the morning and take my vitamins in the evening. That way, the vitamins and the tea aren’t in my digestive system at the same time.

All in all, you can tell I’ve put a lot of thought into how my tea-drinking could affect my pregnancy. Possibly too much thought (after all, people have been drinking tea for centuries and we’ve managed to keep having babies). But it helped give me peace of mind, and I hope that aggregating some of the information I found helpful might help someone else, too. I’ll close by pointing out that a lot of this research ended up being moot, as my first trimester nausea ended up limiting the amount of tea I drank anyway, mostly because I felt too sick to really enjoy the good stuff.

My Current Skin Care Routine (Spring 2018) and Why I Don’t Focus on Anti-Aging

NB: All products mentioned here were bought with my own money, with the exception of Glossier Milky Jelly, which I often pay for, in part or in full, with affiliate credit, although I started using and loving it well before I ever had any store credit with Glossier. While the links in this post are non-affiliate, if you’re interested in supporting my blog by using my affiliate/referral links, they can all be found here.

Hello, lovely readers! I know I’ve been somewhat intermittent at updating this space, especially since I started making my YouTube tea sessions. Thank you to all of you who have checked out my videos and been so supportive. There is more tea to come. But, of course, I’m still interested in beauty and skin care, so I thought I’d share a bit about my current skin care (although most of it is based on old favorites) and somewhat about my beauty philosophy lately.

As some of you may know, I recently turned 35. While that doesn’t seem very old to me, it is the beginning of being considered a prime market for anti-aging products. And I certainly have some signs of aging. I have some lines across my forehead (one of them rather deep) and some fine lines around my eyes and upper lip. But I don’t focus specifically on “anti-aging” products in my routine. Honestly, I only use one proven anti-aging product and that’s sunscreen.

Basically, the first reason I don’t focus on anti-aging is that I’m not that old. I think I look my age (though others don’t always agree) and I think my skin looks great. Yes, my forehead wrinkles up a bit, especially when I talk, but that’s just because I’m an expressive person. Seriously, when I’m on stage, my eyebrows are like another character in the show. I don’t have any judgment of other people who pursue anti-aging in skincare; it’s just not a priority for me right now.

But the other reason I don’t use anti-aging products is that most products sold as “anti-aging” have limited science behind the claim except for retinoids and sunscreen. I currently use sunscreen because, c’mon, sunscreen. Use sunscreen. And I don’t use retinoids because I’m currently trying to conceive and previously had a miscarriage. Yes, I know that topical retinoids have zero evidence of issues in pregnancy, especially over-the-counter retinols. But guess what? It’s not worth it to me (see reason one) to use something that could make me mentally feel responsible if something happened to a future pregnancy again. It’s slightly irrational, but so are most fears (except spiders). I will probably start using a gentle retinol after pregnancy is no longer an issue for me.

So I don’t focus on anti-aging. So what *do* I focus on? Well, my number one focus is avoiding things to which my skin is sensitive. This means no high-pH cleansers (high pH for my picky skin is 5.5, but that’s just me), no butters or oils that have caused me a reaction, no fragrances, no essential oils that have caused me a reaction, no heavy-duty exfoliants. After that, I also focus on thorough cleansing, hydration, and protection. Some of my products do have incidental anti-aging ingredients in them, but my primary reason for using them is because of their hydrating or soothing qualities.

My Current Routine:

My current routine has grown out of several years’ worth of following a variety of skin blogs and sites from around the world. Particular shout-out to Caroline Hirons who taught me that hydration was so important for acne-prone skin. I suppose I should say a little about my skin type: I have combination skin, though I’m becoming more “normal” as I persist with a decent skin care routine. I get a little oilier in the summer and a little drier in the winter, so it’s important to note that this is my spring routine, rather than my heavier winter routine. If I break out, it’s generally either hormonal or because of a few well-known triggers (shea butter, coconut oil, sometimes olive oil). My skin just drinks up hydration and occasionally hates organic sun filters. So on to the products:

Products:

Oil-based cleanser: Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm
Water-based cleanser: Glossier Milky Jelly (referral link above)
Vitamin C: COSRX Triple C Lightning Liquid (referral link above)
Chemical exfoliant: Stratia Soft Touch AHA
Face mist: Heritage Store Lavender Water and Glycerin
Hydrating Serum: Jordan Samuel Skin Hydrate
Facial Oil: Jordan Samuel Skin Etoile
Moisturizer: CeraVe Baby Moisturizing Cream
SPF: Make P:rem Blue Ray Sun Cream (referral link above)
Clay mask: NOW European Green Clay mixed with water or mist
Sheet mask: Make P:rem Safe Relief Moisture Mask (referral link above)

Okay, so this is a lot of products, and I haven’t separated this out into AM and PM routines. That’s because I use basically the same products day and night. My routines generally have the format cleanse-active-nourish-protect. So my AM routine is:

  1. Water-based cleanser
  2. Vitamin C
  3. Face mist
  4. Hydrating serum
  5. Moisturizer
  6. SPF

and my PM routine is:

  1. Oil-based cleanser
  2. Water-based cleanser
  3. Exfoliant (three times a week)
  4. Face mist
  5. Hydrating serum
  6. Facial oil
  7. Moisturizer

and then once a week, on Sundays, I do a clay mask between my two evening cleanses and put a sheet mask on after my facial oil. So it’s not a 10-step routine, but it’s not 3-step either. BUT, I can use these products in a 3-step routine, if I really need to. If I really need to, and I’m not using waterproof eye makeup or sunscreen, I can do a PM routine of water-based cleanser, hydrating serum, and facial oil, or an AM routine of a splash with water, hydrating serum, and SPF. Because my skin is resilient enough not to need all the steps all the time. I’ve talked before about how it’s important to have a minimum acceptable routine so that you can do *something* rather than go to bed with makeup/sunscreen/city grime on your face just because you’re too tired/sick/hungover/drunk to face a seven-step routine.

So that’s how I currently treat my skin, for spring 2018. It’s a pretty stable routine, though I had some heavier moisturizers for winter that I’ve stopped using since it’s not frigid cold anymore. And I’ve recently bought a couple of things to test, so we’ll see how it shakes out in the future. But I think my skin is in a nice place. I’d love to hear about others’ routines!

NB: All products mentioned here were bought with my own money, with the exception of Glossier Milky Jelly, which I often pay for, in part or in full, with affiliate credit. While the above links are non-affiliate, if you’re interested in supporting my blog by using my affiliate/referral links, they can all be found here.

Brand Spotlight: Jordan Samuel Skin

So I’m doing something a bit different today, but I wanted to talk about a brand I’ve really been liking these days. Usually when I think about a brand I like, it’s mostly about the products, and since I have virtually no actual brand loyalty, that changes as often as my routine. But lately, I’ve settled into a kind of set routine, where I love all the products I’m currently using, and I don’t feel any need to explore for the time being. And two of those products (one of the two brands that boast two items in my routine from the same brand) come from Jordan Samuel Skin.

Jordan Samuel Skin is the labor of love of founder Jordan Pacitti, a former corps de ballet dancer with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Now, if you’ve followed this blog for a while, though its various incarnations, you may remember that I returned to ballet at age 30 after not dancing since the age of 7. I’ve always loved ballet and part of me wonders what could have been if I’d had a more supportive teacher when I was a child. So of course, I was immediately drawn to the aesthetic of a brand developed by a ballet dancer for the challenges that a dancer faces. Incidentally, the issues of late nights, lots of makeup, and sweating under stage lights also apply to actors! I also found Jordan’s YouTube videos “Jordan Samuels Skin Talks” and found his personality engaging and fun. He just seems like such a nice guy (and he has cats, so how could that be bad?).

So I splurged and bought myself a bottle of his Etoile facial oil, a blend of luxurious plant oils with a price tag that is actually less than a lot of the blended facial oils on the market. He also doesn’t put any fragrance or essential oils in his products, which my finicky skin appreciates. From the time you receive your package, you feel the care that goes into each order. No, Jordan doesn’t personally write the note in each package, but the printed handwriting suggests a level of intimacy, like a friend just sent you a gift. The packaging is understated and elegant. The whole experience is highly Instagram-able, which I imagine is part of his strategy.

Oh, and he does social media so well. While I don’t flatter myself that Jordan himself responds to every YouTube comment and Instagram message, every comment and message does get a response. When I tag the brand on Instagram, I get a comment or a response (if it’s a Story). I even got a completely-unrelated compliment on my hair after tagging the brand in a Story! And they’re highly receptive to questions about products on Instagram messages. I feel a connection. They’re social media game is on point, which is so important, particularly when other brands can either feel disconnected or unwilling to engage constructively.

But what about the products? Well, I’ve tried two products from Jordan Samuel — the aforementioned Etoile Facial Oil, and his Hydrate Serum — and I love them both. They’re kind of like your favorite pair of ballet tights — a good pair should be almost unnoticeable, but they give your legs a smooth line and subtly lifted look to help you see your muscles work. In the same way, both of these products are go-to for one simple reason: my skin looks better when I use them than when I don’t.

The Etoile Facial Oil is a blend of plant oils with a balanced fatty acid profile. It’s a beautiful amber color from the natural unrefined oils, and it has no scent. It goes on with a noticeable slip, and I find it a bit oily for daytime use, most of the time, but it’s lovely at night. I pat on 5-7 drops every night after my hydrating steps and before my final cream layer, and I find I wake up with a refreshed glow. When the weather is warmer, I can even use Etoile as my final nighttime step. When it’s very cold outside, I’ll use 3 drops of Etoile in the morning to supplement my daytime routine, or as a protective layer before exercising outside in the cold. There’s also a version with retinol, which I’m going to try once I’ve figured this whole conception/pregnancy thing out and don’t feel conflicted about retinol.

The Hydrate Serum is just that: a fairly basic hydrating serum. It has hyaluronic acid and glycerin, some soothing plant extracts, a touch of stable vitamin C (not enough to replace a dedicated antioxidant serum), and a peptide for skin health. It has no fragrance ingredients, but it does have a light powdery-natural scent from the plant extracts. It’s a thin gel that goes on very juicy onto the skin, and absorbs without stickiness. My skin drinks this up, morning and night, and looks plump and refreshed. Again, I feel like I have a glow with this serum that I don’t notice with other, supposedly similar, products. I’m about 3/4 of the way through my first bottle and I’m definitely springing for the 4-oz. bottle when I need a refill. I like to slather. I use about a pearl-sized amount in the morning before cream and sunscreen, and a slightly larger amount in the evening before facial oil and cream.

So I’ve definitely been enjoying these two products. Given that I’ve spent the last several months paring down my routine, keeping two things from the same brand is high praise. I hope you’ll check it out. I get nothing out of it, other than appreciating that a brand I like is doing well!

NB: This is not a sponsored post.