Saturday, January 31, 2015

January Favorites

1) Downton Abbey - I used to say I didn't like Downton Abbey that much, but since then I've watched it again and again with other people and now I've come to have a certain fondness for it. It's become like a cult series: I can walk around saying things like, "I wish Anna were here to clean the house, " or, "Daisy, make us some tea." Once you get to know all the characters, it's fun to guess what they'll do next or laugh at their eccentricities. I've just finished Season 5--a post with some thoughts will be coming soon.

2) Sur la Table Apron - It was about time I got an apron. I realized I needed one at Thanksgiving, so I took the chance when Sur La Table had their aprons at half off. Speaking of, the color and pattern of this one make me feel like Daisy when I wear it. What's nice is that it's pretty while still being neutral, without frilly patterns or bright colors.

3) Libri Mutti Beauty and the Beast Journal - While this journal's cover is like paper instead of some sturdier material, it's absolutely gorgeous, anyway. Pale pink, faded gold page edges, and that story for the cover. Lovely, lovely.

4) Born Brown Leather Flats - Well, actually I haven't really even worn these anywhere yet. It's been cooler weather, so I've still been wearing boots or other closed shoes. But I was needing a new pair of flats. I'm hoping they'll be sturdy and comfortable (though it's hard to tell with flats before you've walked around a lot in them), and the brown color is the right neutral for my wardrobe.

5) Green Monogrammed Notebook - Yes, yes, I had a bit of Christmas money to spend at Anthropologie, so I also got this notebook there. I don't usually like monograms, but letters seem to make more sense on a book, and it was green with the letter for my last name, so I couldn't help but to get it.

6) Vintage White Hat - Ah, antique stores. I was helping someone look for a furniture piece and happened on this nine dollar hat, so why not? It's been perching on my bookcase, making me want to wear it out to a spring tea party--if only it were spring and I had a tea party to go to.

7) Les Marquis de Laduree Chocolate Book - In addition to the two notebooks, I found this chocolate book on the sale shelves. Although I'm not really familiar with the company and so far don't feel overly awed by the recipes included in the book, there are some informative sections on chocolate and some very nice pictures. Even just as a book to flip through (or look at its pretty white cover), it was a nice find.

8) Fossil Wallet - I hate women's wallets. Really, I do. Most of them take up far too much space, and many of them don't even hold that much for all the space that they take up. (There are some small ones, but those hold absolutely nothing.) And too many are in crazy colors that I don't care for. So I bought a men's secretary wallet. It's brown leather (my favorite neutral), it's thin, and it fits lots of cards and things. Why didn't I do this sooner?

9) Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy - I had the costume book for the prequel trilogy already. When this one came out, it was time to complete the set. I may not read a huge amount of non-fiction, but I do love movie books.

10) Level 99 Cuffed Cargo Shorts in Dark Grey (Anthropologie) - I hate trying on shorts and pants and from all the exciting clothing items, paying $80 for a pair of shorts is far from exciting. But I have one pair of denim Level 99 shorts that I love, and this time I got these dark grey linen shorts. They fit right and look nice and summer will be here in the blink of an eye, and despite the price tag, I know I'll be happy with them.

Monday, January 26, 2015

On the Relevancy of Beauty and the Beast

I've been wondering for the last few years why there hasn't been a good version of Beauty and the Beast coming out. There is so much about this story that has so much relevance toward everything that we've been enjoying in movies and fiction lately, so I don't know why the story hasn't been more in the front lines. Until now, that is. Now we learn that Emma Watson will be playing Belle in Disney's new live action version. I'm guessing it will be (like Cinderella seems to be) very close to the animated version. I'll be eager to see how it turns out.

But all this brings me back to why Beauty and the Beast is such a modern story. Maybe it's because Disney did such a good job of reimagining it back in 1991. If you've read anything of Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve's 1740 version (click here to read a few thoughts I had on it) of the story, it reads very much like a mid-eighteenth century novel in the concepts of politics, marriage, and women. But Disney's movie pulled out a fairy tale skeleton and painted it over with modern interests: adventure, imagination, individuality, and a fresh start. 

Belle's father is an inventor instead of a merchant: that removes all the political implications that came with him being a merchant at that particular point in history and simply makes him a unique man trying to follow his dream despite the entire town making fun of his efforts. Belle isn't a quiet girl who obeys her father's wishes and tries to make due with her family's loss of money; she's an intelligent young woman who wants to have a place in life to live out all her potential, complete with all the adventure of a life lived fully. 

Then we come to the Beast. Belle doesn't have dreams of a prince who needs her help, and the Beast doesn't ask her every day to marry him. So the themes are less about marriage and social status and more about looking past the exterior and about finding redemption. In Belle, the Beast finds the chance to start a new life--but he can only start that new life if she can ignore his (literally) cursed facade. This theme of wanting to begin again is very relevant, as is Belle's sacrifice, her choice to stay at the castle to save her father (Bella, Harry Potter, and Katniss and every other character that's been popular lately all make sacrifices to save the people they care about).

And then there is the more obvious inclusion of fantasy. Unlike other fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast takes place in a real world with fantastic elements. It's France in the not too distant past, just with an enchantress and a spell. Just one enchantress and one spell mean that there is enough of reality to let the fantasy be all the more powerful and believable. And need I even mention that the Beast is very like a werewolf?

While Belle is a character we can associate ourselves with and look up to, it's the Beast that carries the plot in Disney's version; it's the Beast who, like us, wants the chance to be accepted and forgiven, to have the past set aside in favor of a brighter future.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Winter Is Lazy and Busy

I've finally brought the last of my books to come and be with me (no, they weren't in a storage unit; I don't even have a storage unit). I feel complete once more, having them all again. It makes me want to read them all again--and it also makes wonder why I still own certain titles. I actually got rid of about thirty books, which is unheard of for me: usually I like to keep everything, even if I didn't like it, just to remind me of what I've read.

So I've been organizing my books (which is, frankly, one of my favorite things to do; I probably missed my calling in life as a librarian). On my one bookcase, I have the books I haven't read, some of my favorite books, and my movie books. The movie books all get to be on there because they're such weird sizes and shapes that they really work best on a shelf: they are absolutely thrilled to be altogether there. The rest of the books I organized by category and then set in neat, accessible stacks. It's ridiculous how happy it made me to have them all set in place.

And there I was wondering what I'd even done today, besides getting up from the breakfast table at nearly eleven. Well, I did some organizing, some arranging of my desk things and folders, some laundry (including much hand washing), and, um, that's about it. Did I get a lot done, or not very much? I don't even know. It seems like I was busy, but like what I did shouldn't have taken the whole day. Well, I did read some Star Wars and watch some David Tennant interviews, too. And that's just the thing: despite the mild weather, today was simply a winter day.

December gets all the credit for winter because Christmas is the winter holiday and it's in December. But winter is really more about January and February. Even though February is the shortest month, it always feels like the longest because by the time it comes around, winter just can't end soon enough. Winter's about dark mornings and evenings that grow dark before you've even had a chance to have dinner, days that stretch across cold and blank spaces. Clouds of rain or snow or pale skies that ache for the sun's summer warmth. The shorter, colder days make you want to hide away in a blanket and not do anything; yet the blankness that results from the absence of heat also makes you feel like getting things done, being active and lively. And there is always so very much to do during winter: summer is the vacation season, not winter.

Lazy and busy; that's winter, and I suppose that's me today. Somewhere right on the line between the two opposites.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Numi: Chocolate Earl Grey

A little over a year ago, I tried Numi's Chocolate Pu-erh tea, which I felt rather favorable toward. I still have some occasionally, in fact. (You can read that review here.) While I liked that tea and found its use of chocolate rather more authentic than in many other chocolate teas, I did also admit that the use of pu-erh tea would probably alienate a certain percentage of people. I guess Numi thought the same: they now have a range called Indulgent Tea of more traditional teas combined with chocolate.

The thing is, the chocolate element is the same. It's cocoa powder, despite the picture of a spoonful of nibs on the box. So it has that exact same earthy, rich, almost bitter flavor as the pu-erh tea had. If you want more of a sweet chocolate tea, this may not be the one for you--unless you add in milk and sugar, I suppose. Though I'm anxious to try the chai tea version, I went for the Earl Grey first: I've had chocolate chai before but never chocolate Earl Grey. Honestly, though, Earl Grey isn't always my favorite tea, even though it's one of the most popular kinds--I prefer darjeeling. I tend to like citrus notes in perfume (though I can never distinguish them as such), but not always as a flavor. And I don't tend to like citrus chocolates much.

With that said, I quickly finished off the twelve tea bags in this box. Besides the cocoa powder and black tea, the other elements are orange peel, vanilla beans, and bergamot oil. If this particular, earthy chocolate flavor is new to you, it's possible for the citrus to fade behind the chocolate, especially if you add milk. It also turns bitter if you overbrew, though a long brewing (I find) works well for the chocolate side. So you kind of have to experiment to see what brew time you like best. 

While I'm not completely convinced that the chocolate and bergamot were buddies, I suppose the citrus notes do add a little pop of color and fruitiness that can brighten up what is a fairly deep sort of tea. I only add (almond) milk to a few teas, but I did find that this was one of the kind I prefer with just a splash to help coax out the creamier flavors. It's that hot chocolate effect that's irresistible to try and lightly imitate. I completely forgot to try it with sweetener, but that's just as well: I never sweeten tea. While I probably wouldn't specifically buy the Chocolate Earl Grey again, I definitely want to try more of the Indulgent Tea range. Numi is a generally good brand (all of the ingredients in here are organic and the tea and cocoa powder are also fair trade), and they've found a way to handle chocolate tea that does not give either an artificial or cloyingly sweet flavor. And that is something to recognize.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Adventures of Connor & Abby: Part 21

Dinosaurs in the snow; that's what Connor and Abby had to deal with this time. A Spinosaurus was out on the loose, leaving its large footprints in the freshly fallen snow. Keeping a careful distance, the team approached the out of place animal. 

Abby took the lead and soon the Spinosaurus was under control and contained and sent back to the Cretaceous. 

Connor thought this might be a nice time for making snow angels . . . and so Abby decided that she might as well follow suit. After all, they'd done their work; now it was time to enjoy the snow for themselves. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Final Hobbit Companion

I decided some time ago that I would wait until all three Hobbit movies came out on DVD so I could buy them as a set; it's been a long wait. What's been harder than not watching the movies, though, has been waiting for the behind the scenes. I do love behind the scenes. But I have had all the lovely Chronicles books from Weta to take care of certain aspects of production. For the areas that those books don't cover, the movie guides fill in some more details.

I feel like I've been reading the movie guide for The Battle of the Five Armies for a very long time. Though it isn't long, I've just had to keep pausing in it for many and various reasons. Glad, then, it is that the book is divided into many, many short sections, most of which are only two pages. For being such a brief book, it covers a lot of ground. We hear about so many of the different crew members and what their roles have been, along with stories from the actors. Although there is only so much space for each person or each department, there is a good amount to read for the amount of space that's available. Much of the material comes in direct quotes, which I always appreciate.

Given that so many of the characters and sets are the same for The Battle of the Five Armies, I do begin to wonder how much more they all have to say. (Yes, this book does cover aspects of the first two movies, as well--but there is still plenty of material specific to the last installment.) Apparently there is still more to talk about. There are things I hadn't so much thought about, like the location of Ravenhill and all of the planning and mapping required for a battle. There is also some more discussion about characters and their motives and the fulfillment of their journeys. Brian Sibley has put together some nice settings for the movie material by describing the stories that Tolkien tells and pairing that information alongside the plot and characters of the movie.

This book has really made me excited for those DVD special features. It won't be too much longer now. In the meantime, I have the next Chronicles book waiting for me--after a short break from hobbits, that is. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Grand Belgian Milk Chocolate Twigs

Technically this box was in the Christmas section, so technically I am rather late in coming to it. But I decided that lateness would be alright since chocolate twigs don't feel very necessarily Christmasy. If they were designed specifically for Christmas, I suppose chocolate twigs might go along with a yule log cake. Christmas or non, I had to choose these chocolates: although I usually try and avoid chocolate labeled as Belgian (on the belief that it is generally cheap chocolate marketed to Americans who have never been, nor will ever go, to Belgium and will never taste chocolate there), I do love trees. So I was all for a chocolate and tree combination.

The twigs come in a box the size of a small box, which would suggest a large quantity of chocolate. However, the total is only 125 grams; a large chocolate bar is about 100 grams. So it can be either a personal chocolate box or something to share, a gift or a stocking stuffer or dessert. The twigs are around six inches in length, very thin, and come nestled in two gold trays covered in clear wrap. Not completely pretty, but completely average for packaged, mass-produced chocolate. 

And despite all my misgivings about the gold trays and the cheap chocolate, these twigs really did satisfy my tree interest. You can't, perhaps, tell so much from my pictures (which are in the aforementioned gold trays), but the chocolate twigs are quite pretty. They're smooth and rounded on one side, with a flat, lightly patterned end, which makes me wonder if they were somehow piped out onto a flat surface instead of being molded. At intervals, there are little knobs in the chocolate wood and tiny dots, which look like they would be hard sprinkles, are simply more chocolate. I would love to see how someone creative would incorporate these twigs into a dessert display.

I was not, however, wrong about the chocolate. This chocolate is fine. It's milk chocolate. It's sweet and a little nutty and a little greasy. It's standard confectionery chocolate. Alright, but nothing memorable and nothing for chocolate snobs. In a chocolate bar, I wouldn't be interested in eating more than a square or two. But in this form, in this form I am happy to eat it all and not share. 

It's the texture and the shape. Texture and shape mean so much for chocolate; this is why I might occasionally eat a Hershey's kiss but never a Hershey's bar anymore. The delicate thinness of the twigs somehow tantalizes the palate. My favorite way to eat them is to bite off half of a twig and softly break it into pieces in my mouth before chewing it away to a finish. Chocolate tasters make so much of a chocolate snap, but it isn't always that you can snap (not bite) a chocolate in your mouth. This stick shape makes these chocolates addicting like pretzel sticks even without the salt and the crunchiness. Even without liking the chocolate much, I do like this product.