19 July 2018

Shakespeare all over The Park

This is a rare year:  I've already seen two live Shakespeare performances, and within a month of each other.  Both are plays I'm more than familiar with, though they're both not really my favorites.  I had a good time each time, though they were pretty different experiences.

When you say 'Shakespeare in the Park' to a New Yorker, the first thing that may spring to mind is the post-Memorial Day performances at Delacorte theater, beautifully situated near Belvedere Castle and one of my favorite haunts, the Shakespeare Garden.   And it is an evening I recommend 100%, once you're in.  There are lotteries and lines to endure before you have that (free) ticket in your hand.  I'm grateful that both times I've seen a play here, someone else got a ticket for me.  Once you have a seat, which are basic stadium seats in terms of comfort, all you have to worry about is if the weather will hold up.  It did for my group! 

We were there for Othello, which is a Shakespeare play I don't necessarily care for, mainly because it's all tragic misunderstandings.  It was well done, though, and I was surprised to see, for both performances I'm speaking of here, that they kept to Shakespearean period costume.  Usually the productions dress for a different era, like the 1940s.   I'm okay with that, but it's been ages since I've seen a Bard-era costume choice. 

What made this night fun for me was also the raccoon that stole the show; occasionally these guys find their way to the stage and streak across to thunderous applause.  I think they do it on purpose.  At one point some ducks flew overhead.  You won't forget entirely that you're in Central Park.

Soon after Othello, I was able to see the other Shakespeare in the park - which was a production of Romeo and Juliet, by the New York Classical Theater.  It's sometimes called 'Shakespeare on the Run', because everyone meets up at a designated spot in the park, and then follows the actors for a change of scenery at another spot.  It's fun because you can meet up early and have a little picnic (though one you can easily carry is recommendable), and if you're not crazy about your view, it will change in a scene or two.  Also, the actors tend to interact with the audience: the 'balcony scene' had Juliet further away and Romeo standing right behind me.  As R&J is not my favorite Shakespeare play, I feel it needs to be shaken up a bit to be palatable.  There's also the matter of it being a small company, and most of the actors play at least two roles, so the quick changes are pretty fun.  The only negative I can see is that getting up and down from a spot on the grass is not as easy for your joints if you're over 25.

Like siblings, it's hard to pick a favorite.  Both are easy on the wallet - in the NYCT production, you can contribute afterwards, but if your budget is tight, you're still allowed in either way.  Be warned that if you're in the mood for a selfie, you'll have to refrain at Delacorte, as staff will FIND YOU.  Photography is also frowned on by the NYCT.  Just live in the moment!

Definitely try at least one of these experiences if you're in New York in the summertime. NYCT moves out to different venues further down the calendar (like Battery Park, which starts in Castle Clinton), but I try for Central Park when possible.  And bring the kids!  They always seem to have the best time.  Just make sure the bathroom needs are attended to prior to the show, and this goes for both productions.  

Put the phone down; this is the best picture you'll get...







10 May 2018

This Time, It's Personal

I don't always like to talk about personal things here, beyond my occasional cranky mutterings about an overpriced scone.  Sometimes, though, I feel like I need to explain something about myself, without worrying about being interrupted.  More on that later.

So today I'd like to feature the wonderful world of my social anxiety disorder.  It's a bit tea-related, as too much caffeine ups the problem, and also taking tea is often a social activity.  I have other anxiety-related disorders, but this one screws up my life the most.

When I tell people who've known me more than five minutes that I have social anxiety, I'm usually met with an incredulous response.  Yes, I've held a job that requires interacting with humans for over a decade.  Yes, I do public speaking - I've read my own poems in front of strangers, I have speaking assignments in my congregation, and in a language that I can  just about pronounce at that.  I sing in front of others at karaoke with minimal shyness. I wear bright colors that could attract attention.  Occasionally I've shared writing works-in-progress at workshops and lived to tell the tale.  I can't be that badly off if I'm capable of all this?

So maybe I don't have the worst case of social anxiety.  But it's real, and it's painful, and it has messed up my life.

One way is my extreme difficulty in approaching others, particularly to ask for something.  This could be a stranger, a co-worker, a family member, even a best friend. I immediately anticipate rejection, and the thought that I may be seen as being a problem.  When I'm told "just ask", it's like being told to JUST jump off a cliff.  Sure.  That's fine.  



In my college Precalculus class, the final exam was a group project - I chose to do it on my own, and obviously failed the exam and the class because my mathematical abilities are not stellar.  But all I had to do was find a group and approach them.  They wouldn't mind, would they?  Then I had a flashback of being picked to be in a team in gym class during junior high school, hearing the entire group of girls exclaim "No!!!" as I went to join them, and that was that.  I've imprinted that moment in my life and stuck it onto another crucial moment, and that feeling never faded away.   Now if I need a ride, a travel companion, the bill at a restaurant, I freeze up and just hope someone offers.  On a good day, I can text someone with a request.  IF I've asked you for something recently, know that this was a big day for me.  If you said no, I've probably been set back and won't do it again.  And now I've made you feel guilty, and I'm angry at myself for doing that.  I've also lived through it, though, so maybe you've helped me after all.

Even more difficult than physically approaching someone is calling them.  Phone anxiety is pretty common nowadays, but knowing I'm not alone in this does not make it easier.  Since I was a kid I hated making phone calls, and leaving voicemails is only marginally better.  Making appointments is a nightmare for me: for years I kept going to a hair salon that I was not crazy about because I could make appointments online.  Even now I'd prefer going into the salon to make the appointment rather than phoning them.  (If a friend offers to make the calls for me, I feel ridiculous.)  Receiving calls is just as bad.  I keep my phone on silent or vibrate, and often feel a cold sweat come upon me, even if it's a familiar number.   Websites like Seamless have been a miracle for me - I get to order takeout with almost no human interaction?  Wonderful! - unless the restaurant has run out of my order, and phones me to ask for alternatives.  The horror!



But wait?  Don't I work at a place where I have to call people, and take calls, and cover reception?  Yes.  There's more than one reason I feel sick every morning.  Sometimes I end up shooting the breeze and feeling that maybe it's not such a bad thing, and other times I stammer and say 'like' every other word, and am in tears by the end of the call (or close, because I'm also terrified of crying in public, so I get a splitting headache.)  I type at a quick pace, but if someone stands over me while I type I become Typo Woman.  When I was a travel agent (back in the early days of internet booking), I would bristle if a client tried to look a the screen I was working on to find a good rate.  That was definitely not an ideal job for me.  Ideally I should be working in a more quiet position, like data entry, or writer/reader, or with animals (because I will talk to your dog more readily than yourself), but I also need to support myself as an adult, so I power on and make myself sick.  Then - oh no! - I have to call in sick.  All this is not even going into the horrors of job searching.  

Life needs to be lived.  We are all social creatures.  In my opinion, I'm not antisocial (though a bit grumpy).  I want companionship like everyone else.  I love a good conversation over a cup of tea, or a crazy long walk, or in a bookshop.  People are fascinating, and I want to get to know (some) people.  I didn't choose to be single.  Unfortunately, we live in a world where a lot of interaction  and getting to know someone requires being in a crowd.  Movies and plays aren't too bad, because most theaters have decent sized seats, and I'm in a dark room where I can't see others (forget opening night in the MCU universe, though).  Concerts are less possible for me as years go by, especially general admission.  Hanging out in big groups, or any crowded, loud event is something I avoid if I can.  It's not always possible.

Walking into a room full of people, even full of people I know, is daunting.  I explained to someone once that often I don't see the smiles on their faces or even sense caring, all I see is a distortion.  The closest thing I can compare it to is here.  Did you watch it?  The whole thing? Creepy, right?  Willkommen to my life!  It helps if I arrive early, when wherever I'm going is still emptyish, so I try.  I also look for aisle seats, so I can bolt if I need to.  (The only exception to this is during train travel, as looking out a window at fields and horses is soothing.  Horsies!)

The worst situation is being called out on my discomfort.  If I go to a party and want to dance, I will.  I'm not a good dancer, but I'll get to the dance floor, and I tend to feel secure in the fact that nobody's really watching me - that is the one safety of a crowd.  But if someone calls to me to join the dance, and brings attention to the fact that I'm sitting, I'm done.  I'm also highly sensitive, so I can't bear being squashed next to others with little movement, hearing their loud chewing noises and picking up their breath with my nearly supernatural sense of smell.  I don't know if that is a part of social anxiety, but it ain't helping.  When someone calls someone 'sensitive', it's usually a judgment, and social anxiety sufferers are afraid of being judged.  Yay.

Only large groups?  Well, this can also happen with a few people, but another problem is that I'm also soft-spoken.  Like I said before, though, I like conversations, but I don't like to not be heard when I'm speaking.  If I'm interrupted, I lose focus and check out mentally. But even if was able to be heard, you can be sure that later on I'll be mulling over everything I said, editing and recoiling in horror about some turn of phrase or personal revelation.  

I know my fears are mostly irrational, and I know that some people "have it worse" - not that that makes me feel better, now I have guilt atop the anxiety! I don't know if anyone will actually read this through - particularly those who I've tried to explain this to, but couldn't get the words out properly, but this is not something I take lightly.  I can laugh off a decent amount of issues, but not this.  I won't snap out of it, and I haven't gotten better just because sometimes I am Highly Functioning.  Some have been helped by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - maybe it would help me too, if I could make an appointment...








11 April 2018

I'm Not a Purist, But...

When I first became obsessed with tea, I did what I always do: read, read, read until I know as much as I can about a subject without having a degree.  In the early days my reading was almost entirely from books, and mostly books I could either find at my local library or easy to reach branches, with the occasional foray into Barnes and Noble or a used bookshop.  Finding tea itself took similar methods.  Ordering from a catalog was a rare exception.

Nowadays I've learned so much from reading online, and am able to readily purchase from all over the world.  To be honest, though, much of what I learn nowadays only reinforces what I knew before - though certain pronunciations and exact methods of preparation make more sense via video tutorials.

In the "I liked this before it was cool"beast lurking inside of my psyche, I've known the basics of matcha preparation since reading about it from a green tea book I found in the Central Library in Jamaica, Queens, but in this particular decade you can find a matcha expert, or a burgeoning one, within sneezing distance.

What about Oolong?  Not as much, not yet.  Sure, Twinings has carried its own bags of Oolong in grocery stores for ages, and Chinese restaurants often serve it (though I'm not finding as many of the old-school New York Chinese restaurants around), and occasionally I'll get a flavoured Oolong online but I don't know as much about it as I'd like to, and didn't pay much attention to its preparation.  At one point I bought a tea set designed for its particular type of prep and serving, but rarely used it.

What I suppose I'm saying is that, though I consider myself well-versed on tea, I'm not keeping up as much as I used to.  At work I tend to buy a breakfast blend, and maybe an Earl Grey or flavoured green, all in teabags.  I tried the loose tea method, but it took too long, and I ended up bringing its paraphernalia home. 

One recent winter's day I found out that, due to moving semantics, my work was going to close at noon for the day.   Usually in such circumstances I head to Central Park, or the Met Museum, but occasionally I hit the Village, and I thought 'why not'?  I'd read online about a newish place called Te Company, and as I haven't tried any new places recently (except in my own neighborhood, which hopefully I'll get to in another post, for goodness' sake), I went to the West Village for a stroll. 

I needed to eat, so first I had lunch at Tea and Sympathy (because why not), and then had a browse at Three Lives & Company bookshop (highly recommend), and that was only down the block from Te Company.



I immediately took to the location, as it wasn't in a typical storefront, but it felt as if I was welcome in someone's clean, tea-filled townhouse apartment. I arrived during a quiet period, which put me in a good mood right away.  It started to fill up gradually, but in such a way that did not disturb my highly-caffeinated (for me) self.

A brief detour into my crankiness: sometimes I become irritated when staff tries to "educate" me on their product, especially if it's something I know a bit about, but in this case the lady who helped me was understated but immensely helpful.  And not at all smug.  That's important.

There's a WAY to make proper Oolong tea, and it means the right water temperature and steeping time (and quality of water, if attainable).  

The tea is steeped in a warmed tiny teapot, and then transferred to a pitcher, from whence you can pour into the tiny teacup (my hands feel sizable using these cups), et voila!  Full flavour of love!  I strongly advise everyone to dispense with sweeteners in this kind of situation - I don't remember being offered any, and even if I were, I wouldn't hear of it.  This isn't your workaday cuppa, it's the Full Experience.  You wouldn't add sugar to a glass of wine, would you?  WOULD YOU?  You animal!

I had a pineapple linzer cookie, which surprised me with its pepper, but pleasantly so.  

Now, I picked the least expensive tea I could find, as it was not budget-friendly, but I did not sacrifice flavour or enjoyment whatsoever.  Frankly, this was my gateway back into Tea Appreciation.  That sounds odd, because I appreciate my morning Yorkshire Gold in my mug (albeit a pretty mug) with a splash of milk at work: it's a good friend that wakes me up gently but firmly.  But I'd lost track of the slowdown, breathe, savour part of life.  Obviously there's a lot to do in our day-to-day life, but in the wise words of Mr. Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."  I don't want to miss the finer moments of life, and only stop when I'm sleeping - and I don't stop, I have crazy action-packed dreams.  

So I'm going to try that every once in a while.  I will attempt to make Oolong tea right at home, and I will do what I used to do, and read up on tea sometimes.  And maybe I'll blog about it more frequently than every five months...





07 November 2017

To the Future!



Ten days in the UK ought to do it.  My entire list should be covered.  Right?

NOPE!!!

I will never, ever get everything done.  Even if I kept a modest list, there are circumstances: weather, expenses, time in general, energy levels...and then there's the TBR factor.  I'm referring to my To Be Read pile of books at home.  Even if I managed to read everything I owned (and that'd take superhuman effort), there's always a new or new-to-me book to add.  London (and now Edinburgh) are the same way.  I've "accomplished" much on my past few visits, but then new discoveries peek out, clearing their throats until they catch my notice.  Often it is all too late at that point.  Here are two spots that will have to wait til next time:

Whittard...

wait, Whittard?  I've been to many of their shops, and have the ancient tins to prove it.  They're merited at least one visit every trip since 1998.  The Covent Garden branch has been well darkened by my eager footsteps over the years.  However, said branch only recently opened up a fully-fledged tearoom!

Thrilling though this news was to me, I only discovered it on the last full day of my trip, and I had reservations for the Sherlock Holmes afternoon tea to look forward to, so I couldn't just sit there and truly get the experience.  I was able to sit and have a cuppa, which as you can see came with little timers in order to brew properly.  Usually, I think, they have minimum requirements, but it was Sunday morning, so I guess they were lenient.  It was only a taste, though, and now I want more!






During a crazy long walk on our second day in Edinburgh, we happened to pass Maison de Moggy, which from the outside looked like the cutest cat cafe imaginable.  Sure, I've been to Lady Dinah's and Meow Parlour, and would go back to either in a heartbeat, and the Brooklyn Cat Cafe is beckoning, but I believe this is the first place I've seen a hairless cat in a cafe.  That's enough motivation for me!  I follow them on Instagram now, of course, and now I want to go even more as there's a cat that's looks a lot like my old Duforth.

When I go away, I don't miss home that much, except for the convenience of being home that you can't even find in fancy hotels.  I'm honestly not gone long enough to miss anyone, with the exception of Zenobia.  My sister Pam ends me pictures of her when she looks in on the furball, which, helps, 
but I still generally ache for the floof.  Going to Bon's in Texas affords me her handsome guy, Kombucha.  Seeing the eponymous moggies in the window (though moggy tends to refer to non-pedigreed cats, and these guys were all somewhat fancy), was a nice holdover, but a petting session would have set me up well at that point.   I also think there would be some pleasing tea and cake inside, albeit laced with cat hair - but I'm used to that!  Yes, I am single and over 40.  Deal with it. 






The list continues.  I almost made it to Leadenhall Market, but almost doesn't count...we passed the Globe theatre while a play was on, and could hear some of the performance, but I still haven't been in the audience.  There are many parks in London and Edinburgh I haven't strolled in, and so many museums in Edinburgh that will have to wait, hopefully not another 23 years.




06 November 2017

Sherlock Holmes Afternoon Tea


A delightful pairing experience is taking place at Taj 51 Buckingham Gate.  No, not the Alice in Wonderland themed tea, though I'm sure that's fun (maybe a bit predictable at this point?)  
I don't do Afternoon Tea as often as I used to, because if I'm honest it's a bit overwhelming sometimes:  too much bread and sweet things for my sensitive system.  I believe I still have Afternoon Tea more than most people, even more than the average British person, because it's generally considered a Special Occasion.  For me, this certainly was special, as it was not only my last full day in London, but also my first Afternoon Tea with Abigail and Clarissa.

I'll get my one and only complaint out of the way, and it's not aimed particularly at this particular place, but at AT's in general.  There's a surfeit of sweet, and only just enough savory on offer.  I'm looking at you, Hound of Baskerville: roast beef to die for, little chicken pies, but just a taste and it's over!  If that's my worst complaint, though, I think we're doing well.

The scones were scones, and they were wonderful.  The pastries were rich, so I had to keep my consumption to a minimum - scotch infused macarons, mousse cigar, all named after a prominent character in the stories.  Here's the menu.  And here's our adventures:





Scones are vital in an afternoon tea: dare I say, they are elementary?


One of the things I especially appreciated about this afternoon/evening is that it reminded me of how much I love good pairings.  I've probably gone on about the childhood teatime ritual of having a spot before sitting down to Jeremy Brett's latest performance.  Even though tea is not the first drink one thinks of in connection with Sherlock Holmes, it's definitely part of it, and when you're down the block from the illustrious Buckingham Palace, wearing a silly deerstalker, you can't help but talk about your favorite stories, and then the conversation progresses to other books, and one is complete.

There's a part of me that wishes I could find something like this in New York: if I did, I'd try it out, but would it be the same?  Emerging fully satiated into the light evening London rain, I don't think it would compare.


03 October 2017

Lovecrumbs




Spongecake Squarecath




Edinburgh is a wonderful city.  I only detected one criticism, and that's the lack of restaurants with kitchens open after 9pm.  I could learn to live with that, though...

My criteria for a lovable city varies, but here's some things: walkability, real park space, people that I love in residence, temperate weather, cozy cafes and/or pubs, history, architecture, and some form of literary community.  Edinburgh has many of these, and today I'm going to focus on a cafe that stole the hearts of both myself and Bathy (especially Bathy.)

Lovecrumbs is kind of hipstery, and if you've had more than one conversation with me, you've heard my not-quite-positive views on the whole hipster thing.  However, as Bathy is quick to remind me, they do coffee right.  They tend to do a good job with tea as well.  So I shall forgive the hipster vibe, and the shop-window seating that Bathy coveted but we couldn't snag, and focus on the best thing.

CAKE!!!!

Lovecrumbs passed the Victoria Sponge test with flying colors.  In fact, on our second visit, I tried an orange variation thereof and was smitten.  In subsequent perusal of reviews (why do I sound like I work at a law firm?), I found others were effusive in their Cake Praise.  On that alone I shall recommend.

Bathy loved the coffee, which I think came from a company called Steampunk, but I won't expand on that as I have limited knowledge (still, try the coffee if you'd like!)  I had the Violet Petal black tea, which was heavenly, if you like violet flavoring, which I do. They give you a thermos of hot water, which may not be as cute as a teapot, but it did what it needed to.  Had a Lemongrass and Marigold tisane the second time, which was nice, but the violet remains my favorite.

What I liked about the cafe itself is that it was large and airy, but had cozy places to sit and people watch, read, etc., while having some CAKE!  And it has WiFi, which never hurts when you're out of town, or anywhere, frankly.

I'll have to do any all-around Edinburgh post, but I thought we'd start with a favorite and work our way in.  For now, I'll say it's a good thing Edinburgh is a walking town, as there is much to walk off!


A nice cuppa, all is well.


CAKE!!!!

14 September 2017

Peggy Porschen Cakes...A Study in Pink (there, I fit that in)

When I return from a trip to my beloved London, I tend to spend the next few weeks in brooding mode.  That is, I brood when I have time to brood, between catching up on work, unpacking, and dealing with some awful jet lag.  To cheer myself up, I try checking off places in my mental checklist - and sometimes a physical checklist, though my bullet journal has been mostly neglected since about June.  So much for time management!

Here's one place I'd meant to visit for years.  I'd passed Peggy Porschen Cakes on the way to Tate Britain once, and then couldn't seem to stop in during subsequent trips, mainly because I couldn't find it.   When I found myself actually staying within blocks of it, I knew my time had come.

If you haven't heard of this place, you probably have not looked at too many London tags on Instagram, because my feed happens to be infested by its pinkitude.  In a way, that puts me off a place, because I don't trust hype, but since I'd intended to go to here for some time, I knew I'd fit it in regardless of the crowds of pink-hued pilgrims hoping for the perfect pic.  Anyway,  who can blame them? It's really,  really cute, and gives instant cheer to passerby, unless said passerby has the darkest,  coldest heart.






Posing Pretty in Pink


Honestly, my pictures don't do justice to its PINKPINKPINK...

The bicycle is pink!

 I waited for a day when it had just opened, and though there were already two girls working on the perfect angle for their cupcakes and cappuccinos, there was no line.

I never quite "matched" the shop*, and I am loathe to pay the extra fee for staying in the establishment, so I picked a day when I could take my cake out to a park for a mini-picnic.  So I won't be able to comment on the quality of beverage.  I've decided to assume their tea is amazing, as most of the tea I've had in London is remarkably good.

*not that anyone needs to match, but you know how I am about a good pairing!

Now, during my entire 11th trip to London (yes), I attempted to base a bakery's quality on their Victoria Sponge Cake, if it was on the menu.  Why?  Well, I love it, for one thing, but also, it's quintessential Brit-Cake.  It's not easy to find in New York, though Tea and Sympathy makes a sublime example.  Well, I chose a beautiful slice for my enjoyment:



Gorgeous!  Look at the presentation! PINKITTY PINK!!!

And it was okay.  I didn't jump for joy, and I ate the whole thing (and got nauseated and had to breathe, and then I was better), but it was just a basically decent piece of cake.  Perhaps if I'd had a nice Earl Grey, I'd have derived more love, because it was a tiny bit dry.  I'm only judgy at all because of the hype, and because it was early, so any bakery item should be at its peak perfection.  Oh well.

Nevertheless, I'm glad I was able to go, if only to satisfy my curiosity.  And I wouldn't say no to trying a cupcake with a cuppa,  given another opportunity.  After all, there are many cupcakes to choose from which might be better than the sponge, so I'd still recommend going if it's on your list - or if you just love sugar and and Instagrammables and PIIIIIIIIIIIINK!!!!!!


Tube: Victoria - look for Ebury Street, and pink.

11 September 2017

Britophiles, Watch This Space!

I've recently returned from a wonderful trip to the UK (mostly London), and have so much to write about!  Only just starting to get over my jet lag, so will post soon!


17 August 2017

Taking Walks with Catherine: Jefferson Market Garden


There are a few subjects that those close to me know will get my hackles up: if said subject is raised, then raiser must brace for a rant.  Two such subjects are the lack of proper garden/park space beyond Central Park (especially in Manhattan and Astoria), and the loss of New York as a personality (aka gentrification/homogenization.)

The first complaint likely stems from where I am located, both residential and in place of employment.  As an Astorian, one might argue Astoria Park is nice, and it is, technically in Astoria.  If, however, you are in walking distance only because you're a crazy long walker, it might be a stretch.  And let's not forget I don't drive.  I work in Midtown, and despite finding out that the area now  known as Rockefeller Center used to be botanical gardens, somehow it's not enough.  Bryant Park is almost close to my office, but not quite.

I'm not a science/medical major, but I'm pretty sure being surrounded by flower, trees, and grass is good for the soul.  Even though I'm not soul-satisfied on a daily basis, I am thrilled to find tiny escapes from the concrete madness that I call home.

One of my favorite walking areas in Manhattan is the West Village.  Though it has lost some of its flavor to the above-mentioned homogenization, a stroll can still uncover charming, slightly old-school areas that are wonderful to visit, even if living there is long past impossible.   Also, it's a good Teaborhood, which is a word I just made up and don't know if I like yet.  But remember: Tea and Sympathy, McNulty's, a branch of Davids Tea, Porto Rico, Bosie Tea Parlor are just the ones that first spring to mind.  I didn't think of it as a green escape though.  Now I have a reason to!

I've passed the gardens of Jefferson Market often enough, but never saw it open to the public.  I suppose the timing was always off,  but on on recent evening, while running some errands, I passed by and it was waiting for me. 


Nearby - getting in the mood



I was more shy than usual about stepping inside, at first, because I could not believe it was open to the public.  It feels like a private community garden, the kind I'm rarely allowed entrance to.  But I shook off my trepidation, and boy am I glad I did!

The pretties at my feet!

Like the botanical gardens, except with fewer signs and next to a gorgeous library!  Oh, and free entrance...

I want to live here


Not pictured: the benches placed out of the way, so that a visitor can relax and take in the beauty in relative peace.  There is always a need for this!  The only downside is that you can't bring outside food/beverage inside, so there's not taking tea in the garden.  I'm fine with this, of course, as it must contribute to an easier upkeep.

The garden is beside Jefferson Market, which has served many functions historically but is now a public library, so we have a pairing right there.  The tripling is tea/books/garden, and I'd add whatever your favorite animal is, but we take what we can get when it comes to real estate in New York.  You could try having your tea at any of the places (see above), then strolling it off in the garden.   

Jefferson Market Garden is open from April - October.  Do visit if you get a chance.  Your blood pressure will thank you.

10 July 2017

Why Wait? A Gentle Rant

I came across a post on Tumblr (which is usually a scary way to open a conversation, but bear with me) about not waiting for Special Occasions to use the nice things, and thought I'd present my own take on this concept.

Now, it's true some things you really might not want to do on a regular basis.  Wearing a cocktail dress that looks amazing on you, but you need to wear torturous slimming paraphernalia and unwalkable shoes to pull it off - yeah, I can see saving that for once a year or so.  But what about the candle that smells amazing?  What's holding you back?

Most homes I visited growing up had china cabinets.  I'm not about to knock them, by the way, because I wouldn't mind having one myself, and I don't see them as often in the homes of people around my age.  However, it occurred to me that many households would save the Good China for once-in-a-blue-moon moments, and then
they'd pass it down to the next generation.  Sadly, the next generation might not even care for the china, and they would either give it away or sell it on ebay.  What was the point of all that care and Don't Touchitude?

Since my late teens I've been collecting teaware.  I've scoured local shops and later online resources for teacups and teapots, and I have always been grateful when relatives passed on treasures to me, especially since they know I Use Them.  I grew up in Queens, New York, and everything was rushed, no time for losers, hurry up and eat, pop something for indigestion, move on.  Discovering the culture of Taking Tea gave me a respite from all that, a chance to stop, savor, hear myself think.  Sure, I can't pull of the entire ceremony at work (usually), but if I can take a morning, or evening, and break out the delicate teacup (not always delicate; I dropped one recently and it remained intact), and relax.

And have that nice blend before it goes stale!
I do travel, though not nearly as much as many of my friends, but there were years here and there when I hardly left the city, much less the state, because my finances weren't having it.  It can be awfully depressing when I based my happiness on looking forward to the next journey, and had instead a gaping hole in my calendar.  How much of a relief it was to design my own mini-trip, with some cake and the best Darjeeling I could afford, and of course a good book!  Even better, when my sisters or friends could come over and be my travel companions!  The Special Occasion stuff does that.  If I'd stashed everything away, to use maybe once a year, for an illustrious gathering, what would be the point?

A few years ago, an apartment on the top floor of my building had a fire.  It was quickly put out, but there was water damage in most of the apartments.  Mine was the one one that had absolutely no damage (from that day, at least).  It made me think: what if I'd lost everything - would I have been glad that I'd not used the Sherlock Holmes teapot because it was Too Nice?

I have to remind myself to do this for other things, too, like makeup and jewelry, clothes I particularly like.  Makeup is a big problem for me.  I wear it every day, but usually stick to the same palette and brushes and concealer, etc.  This is fine, but I have too many other lovely cosmetics from years of ipsy subscriptions, and even though they don't go bad as quickly as food, there has to be a point where it's gone off a bit.  

Finally, journals and blank books.  It's so scary to put pen to fresh page, so I have some gorgeous books that have sat around, untouched, waiting for years to be used.   Shame!

Let's sum it up by saying I love to visit museums, but perhaps it's not the best practice to behave as if I live in one.


09 June 2017

Beach Reading!

When June rolls around, my first thought is to budget for air conditioning.  My second thought is to figure out my summer/sweaty-ready wardrobe.  

Then I start to think about the beach.

I don't think I strike anyone as a Beachgoer.  I've posted here and there about my beach days, but I've rarely if ever planned an entire vacation around that particular purpose.  I could probably live in a place that isn't near the ocean.  Still, I have a nagging voice in my head that tells me I must get in a beach day or two every summer.

As a kid, this meant playing in the waves, getting sand everywhere, and then going home.  As an early adult it meant a little wave frolicking and then getting something to eat with my friends on the way home (or going to a concert at Jones Beach.  That was fun.  It still exists, but it's been ages for me!)  At no time did it mean sunbathing.  I'm fair, to say the least.  I still have youthful skin for the most part, and I'd like to keep it that way.  I don't even wear bathing suits most of the time, because I don't really need to for what I do these days.  Now when I go the beach, an ideal visit means walking briskly along the shoreline (not romantically, but I'm open to that someday), and then sitting in the shade, watching the swimmers, and settling down with good book.  

I heard someone on the news this week describe Beach Reads as something salacious, or steamy, or any s-words one could dream up.  And I get it: the beach is a great place to laze out, not think so much...and that's their choice. I do not criticize.  However, like sunbathing, it's not my thing.  

So what is a Catherine Beach Read (CBR)?  Well, on a practical side, it won't be a heavy book.  There's enough to carry out to the sand without getting a hernia.  And don't get me started on e-readers.  I don't care for them as it is, and I'm nervous already about getting sand in my phone.  In a nutshell (or seashell?  No?), I'm most likely going to bring something akin to what I'd bring on  any holiday: something not so deep it would take intense, scrutinous concentration, but not necessarily floofy either.  I'm still reading the Hamilton biography.  I bring this up because it was a beach read for someone, and would be for me if it weren't approximately the weight of Zenobia.  History is welcome, though, and historical novels even more so.  Mysteries?  It depends - nothing too dark.  Poetry is usually something I read aloud, and that might creep people out.  At least that would give me space!  Speaking of space, sci-fi is all right, but I'd prefer if it's the humorous, Douglas Adams type.  

I supposed there's no one type of CBR.  If I were going today, and it wasn't going to be a group beach day, but the kind where I take the LIRR out and would need something to last me on my train ride back to Queens, I'd bring one of these bad boys, otherwise currently waiting on my bookshelves with hopeful glances:



It's part of a series that I like, which raises it to the top!


I like a good memoir, it's been recommended to me more than one, and it's described as a "quick read" and "actually funny".  Ticks a lot of tickables.


It's history and paperback.  Bingo!  Also, spoiler alert, I plan to return to Scotland soon...


A travel memoir that looks like a laugh.  Generally, it's easier for me to read travel books when I'm in a pretty place, as I won't get too wistful.


Please comment your beach reads: past, present, or future!


30 May 2017

Pairing Hygge with The Tea Life



My blog likes to focus on "The Tea Life", which can take on as many definitions as there are tea drinkers.  I may eventually call it "My Tea Life".  Anyway, I've used this forum to explain things that are very Taking Tea with Catherine-friendly, and for the most part this has centered on tea rooms, cafes, and books that pair well with tea.  But there's quite a few other bits of life that complement The Tea Life, and here is the first, and probably the most, in my opinion.

I've never been to Scandinavia, and I hope one day to remedy this.  I'm mildly perturbed by the long winters, and hence the glut of short days, that come with being so far north.  However, statistically it is said that people in Denmark and Norway especially have a higher quality of life compared with other lands, so they must be doing something right!  And this seems to be related to the concept of Hygge (pronounced Hoo-ga, but probably still sounding wrong coming from my mouth).

Before writing this post, I read a few books on the subject of Hygge, and found that perspectives vary on what exactly is Hygge.  As a label, or a trend*, it points to cozy living with candles and friends gathering together around fires with sweaters and nature.  Already this appeals to my love of "finding the cozy".  But essentially the word means "well-being".  I'm not going to expand further on language, because my mind is addled with Arabic right now, and I don't want to blow it up.  That would not be Hygge.  So I'll use the one word and intersperse it with English.

*I don't care for the fact that Hygge has become trendy, and I almost hesitated going on with a post about it.  I get a little motion sickness riding the bandwagon.  But principles are useful to glean.  Besides, how would I know about Hygge if it hadn't breached its insularity?

There's much talk about long walks in nature, which I love, but don't have tremendous access to, so I shall translate this to hitting The Ramble in Central Park more often or Prospect Park for a change?

A snow day's attempt at Hygge, reading about Hygge.  Like eating a pig-in-a-blanket in a blanket

The concept of togetherness, especially around a communal meal, is encouraged.  Yes, I need to be more proactive in having people over - I rarely have my nearby relatives over for a meal, and that's sad.  Or - hello! - for tea?  I already have more plants than I should in my apartment, which is quite a feat considering the lack of natural light and surface space (and the risk of getting a bit of flora that doesn't agree with Zenobia's biology).   I finally got an umbrella tree plant for my desk at work, and it's flourishing much more than the sad excuse in my living room.

One thing I've nearly perfected is Hygge + Tea.  I know the books talk about coffee and Fika more than tea, but it's nearly the same idea.  I've rounded out all I've learned and decided that what works best for me is taking a little time for a cup of tea, a pastry, a book, and much less technological interference.  That last part is the biggest challenge.  My phone and I have a somewhat unhealthy relationship, and it would be a wonderful thing if I could keep my eyes and hands away from it even for an hour of my waking day.  It's more than just Hygge, it's a mini-vacation!  

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you incorporate Hygge into your life (even if you've never used the term.)  Soon I hope to write about other stuff I enjoy working into The Tea Life.



19 April 2017

At Twelve

The blog turned 12 today.  Let's hope it's not as awkward as I was at that age.  Zenobia is twelve, and she acts like she's maybe 4.  We'll take a page from her book.

I've been working on a few posts, but only ended up with piles of drafts.  I hope to rectify that soon.  Watch this space, and thanks for reading!


14 February 2017

Taking Tea (and Coffee) in Texas

Just when I think we've been to all the tea/coffee spots in San Antonio, more spring up like dandelions!

Also, did I mention breakfast tacos?  Though many places only offer them in the morning, and for once I'm going to say please take a page out of McDonald's playbook, it's still a wonderful thing to look forward to.

If I'm going to pick the place I'd like to return to the most, it would be Commonwealth Coffee.  I only had the tea and a pastry, and these were just okay, but I hear their coffee is good.  The vibe, though.  It's something I look for in any coffee/tea place outside of the major metropolitan cities.

What?  Isn't San Antonio major enough for you?  Well, yes, it's big like all of Texas, but it's set up, in my opinion, more like the suburbs and less like a metropolis.  My criteria, of course, is walkability.  I'm not amazingly well-traveled, but the walkable cities, like London, Paris, Boston, Montreal, Philadelphia, Washington, almost Austin but not quite, have a certain kind of shop front, and the driving cities like San Antonio (and West Palm Beach, and I'm probably forgetting places but you get the idea), have another.  They have much better parking, which is a plus, and their cafes/coffee shops that are not located in a shopping center or downtown area tend to give off the feeling that you're entering a residence.  What gives it the good vibe is if it's airy and not creepy-musty.

(This is all opinion-based, by the way.  There are exceptions even in San Antonio.)

Commonwealth was cozy but cool, and a seemingly welcome spot for all.  I say that because another spot, Rosella Coffee, doesn't feel quite the same.  It's off the Riverwalk and near a museum, so it should attract gobs of different people, but it feels campusy, dark and industrial.  Ohh, I know some people love that atmosphere, and I'll be quick to praise their London Fog tea, but all in all I preferred Commonwealth, and their nice variety of pastries and light fare.  Yep.

Hiney Gourmet Coffee was worth a visit just for the name, so we chose this as my Cheat Coffee spot.  I'm of extremely two minds about this place - the coffee was okay and all, the proprietors were very friendly and we had a good chat with them, and their friends.  The kid behind the counter was an incompetent so and so, though.  We cannot be the first patrons he grossly overcharged.  So maybe I'd go back, if he's not there.  I don't want to be too negative about it, so I'll stop here.

I'm sure you all (or y'all?) know I love my cuppa with a view.  In this, I'm not alone.  But, well, how often do I actually have this privilege?  Usually my first tea is sipped in front of my office computer screen, and so is my second one.  On the weekends it could vary, but it's likely on my couch with Zenobia, which is no problem, and in a cute cafe anywhere a people-watching session is always welcome, but scenery is sublime.  That time I had my coffee from an outdoors Paul, where I could face the Thames or the Tower of London?  Six years past, and it's fresh in my memory.  I've schlepped tea into Central Park at times.  A water view is tops, though, and Mozart's Coffee Roasters in Austin provided this.



It had been rough, despite a happy morning at Book People and Voodoo Donuts, because my phone's battery died.  Bonnie was kind enough to let me use her phone to take pictures, but I'll admit I was antsy.  Somehow, though, sitting out on a deck overlooking Lake Austin and watching happy little boats go by with my Earl Grey and an empanada (odd pairing but not bad), life reset itself.  It felt like a little piece of New England in the capital of Texas.  I was happily confused.

A weird moment, and Austin is a weird city, was finding Toms Coffee Roasters.  Toms as in those canvas shoes that woke people own.  All the products were there, but so was a coffee spot, and a cute seating area out in the back.  We were caffeined up, but I wouldn't mind trying this place on another visit.
Voodoo Donuts
Since my visit, Bonnie alerted me to places she's discovered 'for my next Cheat Coffee'. I guess I'll be back!






22 December 2016

Recent Linkage

Some new stuff on the other blogs:

http://dadecdotes.blogspot.com/2016/12/taking-coffee-with-dad.html - In which my nose is nostalgic again...

http://cataria.blogspot.com/ - In which I'll use any excuse to share duck pictures!

Enjoy!

20 December 2016

A Muse for My Middle Age, or Mile High Epiphanies

I've been meaning to get going on covering my most recent visit to Bon in Texas, but got sidetracked by Too Many Projects and other busy time-stealing life necessities.  Excuses out of the way, I will now address one thing that happened when I was away.

I turned 40.

No, not putting it in caps.  I tried not to make a big deal of it, as I don't actually celebrate birthdays, and people are fond of telling me I don't look 40 (keep that coming, I love you), but internally I was screaming in anticipation of what I've always viewed as Official Middle Age-dom.  

For a good portion of my life, I've juxtaposed between feeling old and young, and feeling frankly confused.  Many of my close friends have been younger than me, and though I never put myself in the position of being the Mother of any group, I find that I'm usually the one who feels achy first, who runs out of steam first, and that made me feel old, even in my mid-twenties.  The Tea Queen persona could have aged me, but tea culture has gained a younger following in recent decades, so I'm not bothered there.

Also, in my 30s I started to read up on Introversion vs. Extroversion, and realized that being worn out from hanging out in big groups had little to do with age, and I was not alone in needing to be alone more.  The physical aches, well, I don't know.  This year the back issues and problematic knee didn't help me feel like a spring chicken, but there's a part of me, mentally, that feels entirely youthful.  I still have the "when I grow up" thoughts, and I never grew out of wearing silly hair clips, and other items that I was supposed to move past long ago.  I want to be respected for how far I've come, but I don't want to be "past it", either.  These concerns asserted themselves into my waking and sleeping thoughts, and I was only too happy to be going out of town, away from reality, when I left my 30s behind.

On a full but comfortable Delta flight, I was pleased to find my route finally had in-flight entertainment.  Though I welcome any excuse to catch up on reading, I will always prefer passing the hours on a plane with a movie or two.  I found a documentary that proved to be perfect timing for my pre-mid-life crisis.



The image of Iris Apfel lingered in my sub-conscious, but I'd never paused to consider her, or who she was, until Albert Maysles brought her to life in such a vivid and loving way.  She's her own woman, without steeping on others' toes or being obnoxious about it.  Not that she won't express an opinion, but she won't jam it down your throat.  She has the most unique but enjoyable to see style I've ever seen, she's a refreshing kind of New Yorker, she's developed a massive adoration in recent years through museum exhibitions and media coverage, she's nonstop, and at the time of writing, is   95 years old.  

I'm not saying Iris will be running marathons or climbing Mount Everest any time soon, but she is living life, using whatever time is given to her, and she's a pleasure to watch.  Bonus:  she grew up in Astoria,  Queens.  For this alone I'd like to meet her,  to ask what it was like in the 30s?   

Does this mean I want to be exactly like Iris?  No, though I'd love to possess her haggling skills.  I simply like her approach - remembering where she came from, always moving forward, taking delight in childish things - basically spending her later years playing dress-up, and having worked hard her entire life, earning the right to play.

Though I'm still not looking forward to aging, and I don't know anyone who does, watching someone who hasn't given up makes it a little easier to cope with a new mature-sounding decade.  And I know some occasions cause for toning down in the realm of apparel, but I love the idea that one never has to truly grow out of who they are.  I'm not taking off my silly hair bow!

Also, I agree with Iris Apfel about being pretty.  While I appreciate someone telling me I'm pretty (yes, it happens on occasion), I too have understood that getting by looks alone is not wise. I like being reminded that a woman should also be intelligent and creative, and at the same time devoted to the ones they love.  Her relationship with her husband, Carl, was truly beautiful.  It is sad that he died around the time this documentary came out (so did Albert Maysles, actually.  I guess 2016 doesn't have the monopoly.)

So, though I still occasionally say to myself: "What?! Forty?!", my anticipatory gloom faded somewhat during that 4 hour flight, and I had a wonderful time.  More on that following.

Finally, I recognize that I hardly covered what was in the documentary, but that's because you should see it for yourself!  Only spoiler is that at the very end, there mention of making tea.  Full circle, my friends.

Pair with a colorful fruity blend.

06 December 2016

The 2016 Books/Pairings Post

Oh, I fully intended to make my book/tea pairing posts at least quarterly, but at least we'll squeeze one in for the year!

I will not hit the 75 mark this year - I'll be happy to hit 50 and probably won't.  This is still not terrible, and I've put at least some of my non-reading time to good use:  I wrote more, and am still learning Arabic, which is time-consuming, but I'm seeing some  progress, so it's worth it!  My health was questionable at times, especially in the spring.  You'd think I'd get more reading time done when I'm home in convalescent mode, but sleeping seemed to be the thing instead.  But no more whining; here's just a few of my reads this year:



St. Marks is Dead: The Many Lives of America's Hippest Street, by Ada Calhoun
The title drew me in, because how many native New Yorkers must have said the same thing?  I know I have - and I happened to visit that street in the course of my reading this book, because I wanted to say goodbye to The Sock Man before it shut down.  Plus, death was very much on my mind in January - well, all year, but David Bowie...still not over it.  Stupid 2016.

Anyway, the street has been through many changes over the centuries, and I'm always eager for New York history.  If you are too, and if you're frustrated by your neighborhood's changes, this could be a book for you.  Pair a nice Moroccan Mint Tea from Porto Rico Importing Co., or any tea from their St. Marks location - I picked the Moroccan Mint because it's the first thing I bought there in the 90s, before I thought the street was 'dead'.



The Fifth Heart - by Dan Simmons
This was also a tough year for my British fandoms: we were allotted maybe one episode of Doctor Who and Sherlock, and Downton Abbey came to an end.  Bonnie is trying to get me into Poldark, and she will probably succeed.  The Crown was pretty good, but it took til the autumn to get that, and man did I breeze through it!  Thankfully I'm never done with books.  

I already like Dan Simmons as a writer, and I get a kick out of writers I follow penning their own Sherlock Holmes stories.  I'm not as big on Jane Austen pastiches, which I suppose is because Austen, I feel, is a tidy writer.  The story ends when the protagonists marry.  Rarely do you need to go further than that - though Death Comes to Pemberley was okay.  The Fifth Heart wasn't a perfect story, but it's set during Holmes' 'dead' period, so it's workable.  He teams up with the hapless Henry James to investigate a suicide that might not have been a suicide, and we journey with them to America in the 1890s, where we meet other notables (not spoiling this)! and deal with an almost existential Sherlock Holmes.  Yes, he believes he might be fictional.  

It's not my favorite Sherlock Holmes story ever, but I certainly appreciated it.  I'm going to be predictable and pair this with Baker Street Afternoon Blend by Upton Tea Imports.  It's perfect for any Sherlock Holmes story, even if it's thousands of miles from Baker Street.



Close Encounters of the Furred Kind by Tom Cox
I can't get enough of Tom Cox's cat memoirs.  When my family first adopted Cinnamon, and I was developing into a fully fledged Cat Person, I did what I do whenever I get into something - I read everything I can about it!  My late teens are full of Beatles biographies, tea histories, and Cat Books.  So many cat mysteries, and travels-with-my-cat stories.  Most of these I remember fondly, but some were overly saccharine or corny, and I tend to approach cat books with caution now as a result.  Thankfully Close Encounters is neither.  The star of the show is The Bear, who I hear is semi-retired at 21, but whose sad, soul-piercing eyes draw you in from the cover onward.  Mainly, though, I love a good laugh, and Cox manages to inject humour into every facet of his multiple cats' personalities.  I'm going to recommend any herbal, woodsy blend, because read it and you'll understand.


...and I'm still reading Chernow's Hamilton.