Leaf & Sip: Chocolates for Breakfast / Iced Coconut Green Tea

While traveling, often without internet access, I had some time to think about this blog. As I reflected on The Burnished Leaf and what I would like it to become, I decided I would like to combine the categories I write about (style, books, tea, life/travel) more often. Book reviews are easy enough to find online, and there are so many wonderful fashion blogs. It feels fresher and is perhaps a better use of my talents to try to write about overlaps between my interests.

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The novel Chocolates for Breakfast, iced Coconut Green Tea, and a reading companion

So, this is my first book & tea pairing, and the start of what I hope will become a series. In a nod to my blog’s title and the linguistic overlap between “leafing” through a book and the tea leaf itself, I’ve named the concept “Leaf & Sip.”

For each installment, I’ll select a book I’ve read or revisited recently, and pair it with a complementary cup of tea. The tea may be reminiscent of the book in flavor or association, or it may provide a refreshing contrast. Either way, it will be something I savored while reading.

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This time, I selected Pamela Moore’s  Chocolates for Breakfast and Trader Joe’s Coconut Green Tea with Lemongrass & Ginger. I was lucky enough to read the book and sip the iced tea in my mother’s sun-dappled backyard. {Confession: It’s been weeks now since these photos were taken, but I still want to share them with you.}

The pairing was somewhat counterintuitive. At first glance, Pamela Moore’s controversial 1956 coming-of-age novel has little in common with green tea, which is often associated with East Asian tradition and an enlightened lifestyle. By contrast, the protagonist of Chocolates for Breakfast, teenaged Courtney Farrell, drinks black coffee and martinis, and the novel’s only mention of tea is in reference to Upper East Side (NYC) pretense.

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I brewed the tea as usual, then strained into a jar, refrigerated, and drank over ice.

However, other elements of the book allowed me to imagine that it was meant to be enjoyed along with a brew from my new tin. For example, Courtney lives in southern California with her fading movie-star mother for part of the book. She sunbathes at their residential community, named “The Garden of Allah,” which is a collection of villas fringing a swimming pool “whimsically built in the shape of a lotus leaf.” Floodlit palm trees frame the community’s neon, Sunset Boulevard sign, bringing to mind a color scheme not unlike the sky-blue and bright green of this tea tin. Doesn’t the retro feel of its palm-frond design seem to mirror the delightfully kitschy L.A. aesthetic Moore evokes?

And after all, both the tea and book were acquired during my whirlwind weeks of travel. The novel called to me from the shelves of Boulder Bookstore with its foreword by Emma Straub (whose work I’ve written about 1, 2, 3 times), book-jacket comparison to The Catcher in the Rye, and alluring cover art. The colorfully-packaged loose-leaf tea immediately caught my eye as I shopped in a San Francisco Trader Joe’s.

Of course, the plot of this novel involves more than the main character sunbathing poolside. Courtney is a somewhat jarring mix of naïve and sexually precocious, and though she starts out as a bookish teenager with a crush on a female teacher and mentor (the nature of Courtney’s attachment is somewhat ambiguous), she quickly sheds her schoolgirl mentality as she transitions from an East Coast boarding school to the home she shares with her mother in Los Angeles.

Courtney struggles with depression (though in this 1950s novel, it isn’t named as such) and an escapist lifestyle. Moore writes that Courtney has “a woman’s body” at fifteen, and “the ease and assurance with which she used her body … her perpetual consciousness of her body, the vitality and challenge in her green eyes—all these things spoke clearly of passion.” The gravity and, for lack of a better word, bravado with which Moore writes reflect, for me, her own youthful outlook—after all, she wrote the novel at age eighteen. Moore’s own world view seems to percolate just beneath the surface of the novel, and Courtney’s troubled glamour conveys a fitting mix of cynicism and wonder, of wise-before-her-time weariness and youthful magnetism.

Moore paints her protagonist’s romantic relationships in a philosophical manner, and as we watch Courtney date a series of men, larger truths seem to emerge. At times the novel’s perspective on topics like homosexuality seem dated, but Moore’s voice is fresh and distinctive nonetheless.

Chocolates for Breakfast is worth reading for its own sake, but its cultural context is equally fascinating. According to Robert Nedelkoff’s 1997 article “Looking Back on Pamela Moore” (included in my Harper Perennial edition), Moore was seen as the U.S.’s answer to the bestselling and impossibly youthful French writer Francoise Sagan, author of the 1954 novel Bonjour Tristesse (I haven’t read it or seen the film—have you?).

Moore’s youth seems appropriately sophisticated—she traveled to Paris during her senior year of college in order to study European battle tactics and strategy, which, Nedelkoff tells us, “struck the journalists of that time as an entertaining eccentricity in a young woman.” But her personal life proved tragic. I won’t go into the details here, but her story has been articulated by others and is readily accessible.

As for the tea: after brewing it in a teapot and adding a touch of honey, I let it cool and sipped it over ice. The sweet taste of coconut tempered the bite of green tea, and lemongrass brightened the flavor. Having sipped this tea hot as well as cold, I would say that the frosty temperature accentuated the coconut flavor, while the hint of honey lent density to it.

DSC04140Calmly drinking my iced tea while reading about the kind of teenage foibles I never truly experienced as a teen gave me a relaxing distance from the book, but I imagine that reading it at a younger age would have been an exciting experience.

For those of you experiencing a classic fall—I envy you. Though these photos were taken last month, the weather in northern California is still just as sunny as it appears here. Though I’m more than happy to forego winter, and I love the feel of sunlight on my skin, I do miss the woodsy feel of a good New England fall.

What do you like to sip while reading?

A Homey Visit

{things to be thankful for}

September Summer

A familiar stroll

California Plums

Plentiful plums for picking

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A brimmed hat beneath the boughs

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A bracelet borrowed from Mom

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No makeup, messy hair, & a smile

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Arty corners of the house seen with fresh eyes

Amidst the chaos of finding my own footing in northern California, it’s nice to spend some time at a place that already feels like home. It’s not where I grew up (my parents both moved to new places after I left for college), but it is where I’ve found reprieve from the strains of adulthood from time to time. With the “positivity challenge” threading through Facebook, I suppose this is my response—a way of looking at my current surroundings with new appreciation. This is a rather dreamy locale, isn’t it?

I still get a lighthearted feeling while wearing my striped peplum top (I debuted it here). A thrifted corduroy skirt adds a hint of autumn style, and my trusty ankle-strap leather sandals are cute but walkable. I can’t decide whether my straw hat is stylish or just practical, but it has certainly provided much-needed protection.

Though the season is beginning to show signs of change, it still feels like summer to me. I’ll be heading to the city again, soon, for what feels like a third-time’s-the-charm attempt at adulthood. Meanwhile, I want to spend a little more time basking in the sunlight, reading.

How are you spending these last days of summer-to-fall?

Refreshing Rooibos at Selah Tea Cafe

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Recently, K and I stopped at one of my favorite teatime spots—Selah Tea Cafe, in Waterville, Maine.

When presented with an assortment of scrumptious teas, I often choose rooibos, a red tea made from the leaves of a South African plant. I like its earthy, slightly sweet taste, and the way it complements other favorite flavors, like vanilla and cinnamon.

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This time, I chose a Belgian Chocolate rooibos. It was rich and fragrant, with a deep caramel color and a warming, reviving taste. The chocolatey-herbal flavor comes from the addition of calendula (a flower resembling marigold) leaves and cacao (cocoa bean) pieces. Consider it a tea translation of well-crafted chocolate.

K ordered French press coffee, and my tea infusion came in a French press of its own, along with a little hourglass timer to let me know when my tea had steeped to its optimum level.

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Breakfast sandwiches with sides of fruit and home fries transformed tea and coffee-time into a nourishing repast. It was just what I needed to refresh my spirits on a gray summer day, as I set out on the first part of our cross-country move.

The experience reminded me of the hearty teatime that has historically sustained British workers. The practice of blurring the line between high tea and supper shows that tea-taking is not only the delicate upper-class ritual that often comes to mind.

Do you make time for tea during chaotic times? What are your favorite blends or varieties?

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Omnivore’s Oeuvre: The Novels of Jeffrey Eugenides

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One of my mini-projects this summer has been reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ complete novels. The author’s Greek-American heritage and native Detroit inspire much of his subject matter, and romantic and familial relationships are central to his work. But Eugenides’ seemingly slim output belies the breadth of ambition displayed in his three novels. The first novel is poetic and poignant; the second, intricate, verging on epic; and the third, engaging and quick-paced. All are compelling reads.

1. The Virgin Suicides (1993) is my favorite. If you’ve seen Sofia Coppola’s film you will notice that the movie’s dreamlike quality matches the texture and tone of Eugenides’ novel. The first-person plural narration tells the story of the Lisbon sisters through the lens of a group of neighborhood boys infatuated with them. Seen from afar, the Lisbon girls—Therese, Mary, Bonnie, Lux, and Cecilia—take on a mysterious quality that starts as fleshly beauty and moves into something ethereal. As the sisters grapple with Cecilia’s suicide and grow increasingly isolated, a sense of longing from the the neighborhood boys amplifies the heartbreaking way the girls fade from view.

Despite the subject matter, I would not say this novel is dominated by stark tragedy. Eugenides weaves a lyrical and evocative narrative that luxuriates in the details of the boys’ imaginations and the material clues of the girls’ lives. Though I am one to react against the stereotypical “male gaze,” Eugenides’ gorgeous prose and the mix of innocence, curiousity, and adolescent wonder in the narrative voice creates a complicated and finely-woven tale.

The male gaze is not un-self-conscious. At one point, Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon reluctantly allow Therese, Mary, Bonnie, and Lux to go to homecoming on a group date that includes some of the neighborhood boys. For one night the girls become real, and the narrator acknowledges the gap between who the Lisbon girls appear to be from afar, and who they prove to be on closer inspection. “Who had known they talked so much, held so many opinions, jabbed at the world’s sights with so many fingers?” the narrator asks. “Between our sporadic glimpses of the girls they had been continuously living, developing in ways we couldn’t imagine, reading every book on the bowdlerized family bookshelf.” With a wave of the wand, Eugenides acknowledges the multifaceted and unseen personalities of the Lisbon girls. Though they are developed characters within the novel, they are often imaginary, sifted and glimpsed through the observations and fantasies of their neighbors. Eugenides reveals beauty and flaws in the ways the boys romanticize the Lisbon sisters from afar. Continue reading

Make a Move: Relocation, Community, and Anne Shirley

 

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Goodbye, beautiful cupboards

Though it doesn’t look like much from the outside, the home I’m about to leave is gorgeous inside. Rich wood in the kitchen, a pretty retro sink. High ceilings. A counter with room for two wooden stools. Space for miles.

I didn’t expect to feel much about this place. It was a wayside, a layover, and only for a moment did it seem like a long-term possibility. Mostly, I’m ready for the relief of being at home in a larger sense—the Pacific Ocean, the homeland, a better cultural fit.

Recently, K and I held a yard sale in an attempt to divest ourselves of some of the belongings we simply can’t take with us. We sifted through objects large and small and hauled them to the front yard.

At first, very few came. A pair of new friends from the university dropped by, picked up a few books, and kept us company for a while. Cars slowed and drivers surveyed our offerings with their eyes, but found nothing to merit stopping.

Then, in the late afternoon, something shifted. Two men with beards, wearing suspenders and work clothes, bought a bag of cassette tapes and a coffee maker, respectively. A young couple from across the street looked earnestly at the essentials on view, disappeared into their home, and came out with enough cash for a blender, coffee table, and shower caddy. An older woman from next door wandered over with her therapy dog, Gizmo, a short-haired Shih Tzu wearing a blue bandana. The woman bought a pink-elephant piggy bank and a container of miniature clothespins.

Out of the woodwork, slowly, a community emerged. Continue reading

New York State of Mind

Clinton Hill, Brooklyn

Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, July 2009

Lately, I’ve been haunted by nostalgia for New York.

I am a person who arrives in a new location with wonderment, then looks around and asks where to next. Home is an evasive concept.

During my fraught teen years, growing up in a small city where people surf the waves and (for lack of better words) hang loose, I wanted something crisper, something cooler, something that matched my temperament. Uneasy during my visits in the East, I left home for an obscure college in the Midwest. Four years swept by, filled with technicolor falls, skin-numbing winters, and miraculous springs. I fell for Virginia Woolf and unrequited love.

After a memorably disastrous year in the city Nelson Algren likens to a woman with a broken nose, followed by a boomerang half-year, I moved to NYC. During the heart of the recession.

I can’t remember ever being so excited or optimistic about a new place. I weathered the tough neighborhoods, knowing there was more to this place. I passed Yoko Ono on the Upper West Side. I commuted to Lincoln Center.

In some ways my life there remained a half-life, or I probably would have stayed. What remains: K, whom I met in July of 2009, when I was living in the neighborhood pictured above. And my one other true friend made in NYC, a quirky, stylish girl who let me be her roommate in a crumbling little brownstone overlooking a hipster/jazz café on one side and a coterie of stoop-sitters on the other.

I’ve been losing myself in a blog called The Wild and Wily Ways of a Brunette “Bombshell.” Please peruse the entries about home, as a place, feeling, etc. They are beautiful.

This post is obviously inspired by those words. But the heartache for New York is real and unexpected.

A Spot of Tea-spiration

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Tea Time - by rockylune

I can’t resist sharing this darling tea time Polyvore set by rockylune (who has a slew of sets worth perusing). I believe the flowers featured here could be called “tea roses”? I love the dash of pink amidst the sparkling white and leaf green. Whenever possible, I like to brighten up my apartment with a vase of flowers.

While I admire the updated Victorian aesthetic here, in terms of tea styling, I can’t say I’m much of an achiever. But I do like to use loose leaves, a tea pot, and a strainer, and pile it all on to a tea tray. I use an actual tea cup and saucer if I’m feeling fancy. During the warmer months, I’m much more inclined to drink iced tea, but I tend to be lazier about it, and have relied on tea sachets so far.

What are your tea time rituals?

A Favorite Recipe

upclosewithtitleI am always looking for ways to incorporate whole wheat flour into baked goods. I also like to add a dash of cinnamon whenever possible—into ground coffee, onto toast, and of course, into recipes like this one. And I like to lessen the sugar content of baked goods just a little bit—it helps to bring out the other flavors, makes me feel a touch better about indulging, and usually tastes better to me.

Enter these chocolate chip cookies. They are adapted from a Toll House cookie recipe in How to Cook, by Raymond Sokolov. I replaced half the white flour with whole wheat flour, adding a slightly denser flavor and nuttiness to the cookie. I used ¼ cup less white sugar, and added ½ teaspoon of cinnamon. This has been my go-to cookie recipe for a few years now.

I lined the cookie sheet with my Silpat mat, which eliminates the need to butter the pan and allows the cookies to bake up into nice little well-shaped circles. The mat was a gift from my brother and sister-in-law. The recipe book also happens to be a gift from them—part of a care package they sent me when I first moved to NYC and was nestled way up in Washington Heights in a tiny subletted room.

So, here are my instructions for a moist, flavorful cookie that tastes a bit like a chocolate-chip cinnamon roll. Continue reading

Bookish Style: The Women of The Vacationers

In my last post, I wrote about the vivid female perspectives of The Vacationers, by Emma Straub. Since Franny, Sylvia, and Carmen are so fleshed out, and because I am such a fan of College Fashion’s Looks from Books, I thought it would be fun to create vacation style sets for each.

I admit that Sylvia and Franny are perhaps a bit less polished than these sets would imply—both don old t-shirts at times in the novel, and at one point Sylvia is described as wearing scuffed-up sneakers. But for me, these sets portray an ideal style for each—one that communicates something of their dreams and personalities.

Franny

A seasoned magazine journalist with a down-to-earth outlook, Franny’s go-to traveling ensemble is described as “a pair of black leggings, a black cotton tunic that reached her knees, and a gauzy scarf to keep her warm on the airplane.” While her daughter Sylvia doesn’t seem impressed by the outfit, it has a certain elegance that’s matched by this navy tunic featuring detailed embroidery. These slingback sandals by Sanuk (maker of very comfy flip-flops, in my experience) add a dash of color along with functional appeal, as does this highlighter-yellow wide-brimmed hat. The classic halter one-piece suits Franny’s stalwart elegance—at one point Straub likens her to a “movie star who had relaxed into stout-bodied middle age.” As the family matriarch and cook, Franny wouldn’t go on any excursion without a supply of portable snacks tucked neatly into tupperware-like containers.

Continue reading

Relationships Resonate in The Vacationers

TheVacationersCoverEmma Straub’s The Vacationers is as effervescent and breezy as its chlorine-blue cover implies—but it’s also much more. Set primarily in a vacation house in Mallorca, Spain, the novel weaves through the various perspectives and backstories of the Post family and friends. Though I floated effortlessly through most of the family intrigue, Straub reveals hidden depths as the novel concludes. As usual, her characters are warmly rendered, and relationships are complex and resonant. As with her last two titles, I felt a bit bereft when I closed the book, not wanting to give up the excellent company of the “vacationers” I’d come to know.

Straub’s characters face enough conflict to keep things interesting. Matriarch Franny Post (who previously appeared in Straub’s story collection, Other People We Married, along with Jim, Charles, and Bobby) is a short and feisty woman—at heart, still a practical, wide-eyed girl from Brooklyn. She sets out on the family vacation determined to make the most of it, but she also plans to decide what her next step will be in light of her husband Jim’s recent infidelity. As they prepare for take-off, Jim reflects on his recent slip-up and also fears that when his youngest child leaves for college, “the time they had all spent together would seem like a fantasy, someone else’s comfortably imperfect life.” “Comfortably imperfect” seems a fair description of the Post family and friends’ circumstances—and I mean that in a good way. Straub provides a frank estimation of the flaws of family life without ever abandoning a sense of optimism.

In her review of the book, Janet Maslin of The New York Times writes that “The male characters tend to be two-dimensional, but the story’s women are so well drawn that they seem instantly familiar.” To a certain extent, I agree. The female characters are fully developed, but Franny and Jim’s oldest offspring, 28-year-old Bobby, is the only character for whom I never felt true empathy. Seemingly a Post family aberration, he’s taken up a fitness and real estate-focused life in Miami, eschewing the intellectual New York life in which he was reared. The Post family quietly but obviously disapproves of his longterm girlfriend, Carmen, a native Floridian and personal trainer with an iron-clad will and a lack of interest in books. But it’s not Bobby’s lifestyle that makes him less sympathetic than the other characters—it’s his actions. Stuck in an unpromising life, Bobby parties to distract himself from his circumstances. We’re given limited insight into his psyche, and his actions are seen most vividly through the lenses of his sister Sylvia and girlfriend Carmen, neither of whom are terribly pleased with the person he’s become.

Besides the four members of the Post family and Carmen, Franny’s best friend Charles, and his husband, Lawrence, also come along for the trip, and Sylvia is tutored by a gorgeous local (of the male variety) with the exotically gender-confusing name Joan (pronounced Joe-ahhhn). Straub juxtaposes Franny and Jim’s relationship against those of their family and friends, creating a sense of inquiry into the nature of romantic relationships. Throughout, she provides vivid perspectives that create lasting impressions. That’s what makes Straub’s characters so hard to part with—they linger in the mind, half-promising to continue their stories.