"N'amastay Home": My Chai Quest

“Chai Quest.”
It sounds like a really mystical role-play game, or a form of yoga, or a tacky name for a purveyor of over-dried spices. But I’m a little fond of the term because for me, it’s loaded with fragrant memories of quiet moments and good friends.

I first fell in love with an excellent chai-tea latte on a hot mid-summer day in Manitou Springs, Colorado. A local friend dragged me into “the world’s best coffee shop,” and as we slipped from a dazzling day into the cool, ornately-decorated cloister of the Orthodox-run Agia Sophia, I was in a humor to agree. I mean, books and quality coffee...can you find a better pairing? Brittany ordered a hot chai tea latte which came in a fat little clay pot. She let me have a taste. My life would be forever changed because that – the sky-scraper layers of sweet and spice and smoke and cream – was what good chai tasted like. I came home, newly-infatuated with chai tea lattes, and ordered one at Starbucks because the price I pay for living where I live is No Independent Coffee Houses. I’m not a Starbucks-coffee hater (slightly-ashamed owner of a gold-card, here), but their normal chai tea latte is a hopeless slump of watery, uncommitted spices dawdling around in hopes of being mistaken for chai. The Oprah Chai (made with whole milk) was slightly better, but still disappointing to one who had tasted of the nectar from Agia Sophia. So I set out on my “Chai Quest” to find the best chai tea lattes money can buy.

When I visit a new coffee shop in my travels, I order the chai tea latte. Sometimes I take it iced, sometimes dirty, once in a while I’ll order a chai tea milkshake (divine, folks), but my favorite way is straight-up classic latte. I rank the chai lattes at these coffee shops on a scale of 1-10, 1 being “hideous, weak-willed yuckiness,” 10 being “liquid ambrosia.” Results so far?

Agia Sophia (Manitou Springs, Colorado): 9 of 10
Aroma’s Coffeehouse Bakeshop & CafĂ© (Williamsburg, VA): 7 of 10
Ted’s Bulletin (Washington D.C.): 6 of 10
Cure Coffee (Norfolk, VA): 8 of 10
Borja Coffeehouse  (Norfolk, VA): 6 of 10
Starbucks Coffee (world-wide): 3 of 10
Shoes Cup & Cork (Leesburg, VA): 5 of 10
Demolition Coffee (Petersburg, VA): 6 of 10

I think I’m reserving the first 10-point rating for real Indian chai, if they make it into lattes down there….the next natural step for a girl who has nothing but Starbucks within a thirty-five minute radius is to make her own…and with August breaking its hold and giving me the slightest hint of autumn to come, nothing makes more sense. I adore autumn. October is my soul-month and the gypsy-winds are my favorite kind of breeze in the world. A chai tea latte is October’s ideal husband. Compared to the all-elusive perfect cup my version is “devoted boyfriend” level: a light, tingling, summery version suited to the tastes of one who dreams of autumn when she can’t quite have it. Having no cardamom on hand, I threw in mace. Black pepper was a second diversion from the inspiration-recipe, and I scrapped their measurements for the spices and created my own blend. I narrowly, narrowly missed throwing in a couple bay leaves…they’ll probably make it in there next time. Chai is all about the spice-game, so feel free to improvise! Enjoy hot or iced, or add a shot of espresso to “dirty” the blend.

Want to make your own? Here’s how:

Summer Chai Tea Latte Concentrate:
(enough concentrate for 4-6 lattes)
6 whole cloves
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 pods star anise
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground mace
½ teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 bags black tea
2 cups water
1.       Bring water to a rolling boil on the stove. When boiling, remove from heat and add spices. Let steep, covered, 5 minutes.
2.       Add tea-bags and maple syrup and steep 5 more minutes. Strain into bottle or jar and keep in fridge. When ready to use, froth milk on the stovetop (I beat it with a whisk while heating) and assemble lattes with slightly more concentrate than milk for fullest flavor.

Le Croissant: Tackling A Legendary French Pastry

I have an official bucket list, on which are 101 items. I was quite certain "make homemade croissants" was somewhere on that list; seems I forgot to put it up there alongside "take a hundred dollars in pennies out of the bank, walk through them, then return them." But if "homemade croissants" never made it actually on the three-page-long list taped to my bedroom wall, they were definitely on my mental list for the next time I had more than a day off of work in a row. When my boss heard I'd tackled homemade croissants, her reaction was more akin to, "What's wrong with a $2 can of Pillsbury?" and though by the time I was done with the intricate dance of letter-folding the dough a million times I was fairly certain "croissant" was polite French for "colicky infant," the reward of splitting open my own croissant, made from scratch, was so worth the trouble.

I based my recipe for croissants off the recipe given by Susie Norris on Zester Daily. Never having made croissants before, I figured a chef and instructor at Le Cordon Bleu was probably a reliable source as far as croissanting went. Besides, I liked her descriptive powers:
The smell of lightly salted butter and fresh yeast encases a real, handmade croissant like an alluring halo of authenticity. Its color ranges from warm brown to a golden yellow — a palette only possible when eggs are mixed with white fours and real, pale yellow butter. As you might expect, real croissants are made by hand in small batches — part of the morning process for bakers around France and other pastry-centric countries such as Austria, where the croissant originated.
I read through the recipe carefully and was rather glad I did, otherwise I might not have realized that, um, you kind of have to do a lot of baby-sitting with croissant dough. Please, please, please always read recipes through to the end. Julia Child said so, and I've gotten in a world of trouble a time or two for obstinately refusing to. There are instructions to this baby. Read it through and all will be well. Truly. Croissants are a darn lot of work, but it isn't hard work.

Those layers. Mmmmf...I'm thinking of changing my Facebook cover-photo...

The finished croissant looks, to quote one of my wards, "like a proud walrus."

 Total rock-star.

And I'm giving you the recipe, because though I might not share the finished product (MINE!), I don't mind you making some of your own.

Croissants (from scratch)
Makes about 18
2 sticks, plus 3 tablespoons good butter, softened
1 cup milk
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/3 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups white bread flour

1. Divide the butter: two sticks in one group, setting aside the remainder. Between two sheets of plastic wrap, roll/pat/mold the two sticks of butter into a thin, flat square (about 8"x8").
2. Scald the milk and allow to cool slightly. When cooled, but still warm, pour into small bowl and sprinkle with yeast, whisking till well-mixed. Add the sugar and remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and the salt. Add in the bread flour, sprinkling in a quarter cup at a time. Mix with wooden spoon until all the flour is incorporated and you have made a smooth, soft dough.
3. Shape into large rectangle (about the size of a large cookie sheet) on floured cookie sheet and allow to rest in fridge for 20 minutes.
4. After the dough has chilled, remove from fridge. Place the "butter block" in the center of the dough and fold dough over it as you would fold a business letter (see photos above). With a rolling pin, roll back out into rectangle shape. Return to fridge and allow to rest another 20 minutes.
5. Dust your workspace and repeat this folding, rolling, resting process three more times. Finally, use a ruler and measure off triangular pieces of dough. The original recipe called to cut the dough into 10 pieces, but I found that, making triangles of a smaller size gave me at least 18 croissants, which was much happier a discovery than 10.
6. Roll your croissants, beginning with the wide end and ending with the pointed tip. Curl the end inward to make the classic crescent shape. Arrange on ungreased baking sheet.
7. Allow to "proof" or rise in a warm, moist place for about an hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, brush croissants with an egg-wash, and bake for about 25 minutes or until, in Susie Norris' beautiful words, "all the shades of golden brown imaginable have developed."
8. Take croissants and yourself to someplace secluded and comfy and consume in solitude. Or, you know, share.
(based off a recipe on Zester Daily)


"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you begin to eat it which was better than when you were, but he did not know what it was called."
-A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
We sat in the shade of an awning on Prince George St. in Williamsburg, sipping draft root-beer and freshly-squeezed limeade from Retro's . One of those summer days so rare in Virginia, where the shade actually has an effect because July forgets to exhale humidity across the land. Our bellies were full from a picnic fit for royals, mine from the picnic, a salted caramel truffle, and a rare chai tea latte. Later I might worry about the effect such dissipation would have on my waist, but we were there to celebrate my birthday and waistlines have no place in birthday festivities. Lazy day, lazy pace, lazy honeybee droning around our half-empty root-beer. We watched him, admiring his colors and the industrious way he syphoned up a few spilled drops before flying off in drunken circles.

Someone suggested we ought to leave soon, but no one cared to move. The day was too pleasant and the company too good. We did wander off to a basement bookstore, ran our fingers over the faded spines, found some familiar titles, ducked back into the sunshine. Antique books didn't belong to a day so golden. New books did: Summer Lightning, Blandings Castle, Cocktail Time by P.G. Wodehouse. Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee. All gifts from the generous set with whom I sat, watching the bees. When we returned to our table, the lone honey-bee had danced for his coworkers and brought several more to the root-beer feast. They buzzed near our faces. One of our party let the bee cling to the inside of his cup as he drank. There was plenty for all. Enough. Like the fullness of the day in which we sat. 
"The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams."
-Henry David Thoreau
One risky young honey-potter fell into a glass. We rescued him and felt mildly heroic, watching him splutter on the pavement, spitting out the surfeit of drink which had got him into so much peril. Temperance, little honeybee. All things in moderation. 

Eventually, the bees had drunk their fill. We had sat long enough in the warm afternoon. Must catch the ferry, catch up to the rest of our group, catch the joy of running with the water of the James River, Breaching it, cutting through it, chasing sunset across its current. So we spilled a little more root-beer, hoped the staff member in charge of wiping tables wouldn't be too angry with us, and left the bees to their business. I came home and painted the bees, small and sophisticated, and felt some of the day's leftover happiness well up inside me. Small things - the fragile beauties, I call them - are sometimes the ones that touch my soul best. Like taking time to feed bees in the heart of a quiet afternoon. I think we underrate the importance of letting oneself sit a while and do "nothing." As Shakespeare so rightly said:
"Sit a while and let the world slip; we shall ne'er be younger."

The Big Launch

Ahem, ahem, ahem:

"Welcome to Lipstick and Gelato!"

feat. York S'mores which'll be posted about very soon!

Having startled you in bold-face type and thanked the barista friend who eased my morning of technical difficulties and wifi-issues by giving me free coffee, I can now celebrate the launch! This blog...I've worked for the past four or five months carving this space out of the cold-hearted internet, making it homelike, creating posts for you to read, filling the backspace, and spreading the word. I'm so incredibly excited for this new venture. And today I actually get to share it with you and celebrate with a fun giveaway. For me, Lipstick & Gelato is the diving-board off the deep end of pursuing my dreams. Food, fashion, and art are some of my favorite outlets for creativity, and I'm thrilled to now have a space dedicated to pursuing them alongside my readers. There are already food and fashion posts here on the blog, so browse around! If you want a fuller explanation of why I began L&G, please click here. Some housekeeping statements, if I might? By clicking on the "Kitchen" tab on the sidebar, you'll be taken to all posts food-related. By clicking on "Closet," you'll be taken to all things fashion-related. Makes it easy on those of you who are only interested in one or the other. Also on the sidebar are following options, links to my social presence on other sites, and my Instagram feed, which you're welcome to follow! I want your experience here to be as easy and warm as possible, so I'll also quickly explain about...

What You’ll Find On The Blog

Recipes: In the Kitchen, on the Gelato side of the house I share all things edible: recipes new and old, hole-in-the-wall spots for a fine meal, foodie friendships, cooking challenges and more.

Style: In the Closet (or Lipstick gallery) I talk about style, beauty, dressing my ‘curvy’ body gracefully, and all things related to looking your best. Some of my inspirations style-wise are Audrey Hepburn, Amy Adams, Tanesha Awasthi, Kate Spade, Zooey Deschanel, classic and vintage silhouettes, and rich colors.

Art: My art is...all around! From fashion-sketches to food illustration, to quick sketches done on the sly under the nose of a snobby Starbucks barista, I throw my art into this blog the way I fit it into daily life: here and there, in all the nooks and crannies.


And now the moment you've really been waiting for, which is where you get to hear about the Lipstick & Gelato Launch Giveaway! At the end of the week, one lucky person will win a prize bundle which includes:

- A piece of original "makeup medium" art (pictured above)
- A high-heel cookie-cutter
- A $10 Anthropologie gift-card
- Her choice between three scented Revlon nailpolishes: "Espresso," "Chocolate Truffle," or "Spun sugar"

Due to shipping costs, this giveaway is open only to US residents. I know it's vexing, but (sadly) I'm not in charge of the Post Office. Entries may be gained by commenting below with a topic (food or style-related) you'd like to see me post about and your email address. Additional entries may be gained by sharing any image from Lipstick & Gelato (or the blog's Instagram) on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter and leaving a link in a comment below. Technical issues prevent me from using Rafflecopter for this giveaway, so I'm doing this old-school: I'll write your name on a slip of paper for each entry, mix them all up in a big bowl, and draw one on Friday night. Have fun and spread the word! Lipstick & Gelato has space for everyone. <3