Autumn/Fall Favorite Tag

Autumn Favorite

Fall is my favorite season of the year. The Tod and I would often sit together in the park bench, waiting for the chestnut tree to go "POP!" and for the chestnuts to fall down, or he would often chase squirrels to no end. And since the rainy days are here and I can't take good pictures, I dust up my Polyvore and make a good use of it. All links are non-affiliate, so click away!
  1. Favorite Candle
    It's a tie between Diptyque Figuier and Mariage Freres Darjeeling candle. I'm not sure if Mariage Freres still carries candles, but theirs are some of the best-smelling yet underrated. If you got a chance to go to Mariage Freres boutique, you will know what I mean -- Mariage Freres shops smell of heaven! Mariage Freres also sells incenses which smells equally heavenly.
  2. Favorite Lip Color
    Aerin Mini Lipstick in Dahlia (discontinue) -- a sheer, blackened berry that is great as a stain or full-on. Aerin came up with a new line of lipstick that is worth checking out.
  3. Favorite Drink
    Blue Lotus Chai. I love this steeped in almond milk or whole milk if I feel particularly indulgent (almond milk can be quite rich by itself, too). This is not a tea, per-se, rather it comes in the form of powder and you mix in with milk/water. Very potent, yet very comforting and full-on delicious.
  4. Favorite Blush
    Charlotte Tilbury Breakfast at Tiffany's is the buttery, biscuity peach flush that I yearn every Fall (here she is in action with my version of Tom Ford's biscuity makeup). It goes with any lip color (including the clashing color of Aerin Dahlia above) and so very easy to blend.
  5. Favorite Clothing Item
    A thick, wooly, camel-colored infinity scarf (like above from J.Crew).
  6. Favorite Fall Movie
    Back-to-school movies remind me of Fall. I'm particularly fond of Les Quatre Cents Coups by François Truffaut. Having a son myself, I find the movie more charming each time I watch Antoine Doinel fends off the daily beatings of ordinary life.
  7. Favorite Fall TV Show
    Downton Abbey. Yeah, looking forward to their last season.
  8. Favorite Thanksgiving Food
    This has to be PapaLorp's legendary sausage stuffing with mushroom. He cooks the entire Thanksgiving all by himself many, many times and while his turkey often hit/miss, his stuffing never disappoints.
    Yet another one of PapaLorp's speciality is green bean casserole. His secret? He follows the recipe printed on the Frenchy's Onion. Oldies but goodies!
  9. Favorite Halloween Costume
    I'm not a big costume-wearer but now that the Tod is here, I make one every other year (so I won't have to sew every year). This year, he is Qiao Hu or Shimajiro (depending on which country you watch it -- it is basically the same tiger). This is the equivalent of Daniel Tiger for preschoolers in China/Taiwan/Japan.
  10. Favorite Perfume
    I always pull out the classic combo of Jo Malone Nutmeg Ginger + Grapefruit cologne. Nothing better than a slight edge of spice, tempered with a little zing-sweetness of grapefruit. 
Thanks for the tag, Monika, and Happy Fall to everyone.


Living Below Our Means: Simplify

A valuable lesson I learned from using up what I have is simplifying my routines. It's a no brainer. Less product = less money spent to buy products = less time to get ready = less waste. First, let's assess the situation.

As it turned out, skincare is not only my sore point of product accumulation. Haircare products are also piling up!! Notice this particularly crowded area of the cabinet.

My hair is shoulder-length and I occasionally style it. At the very least, I blow dry it straight every 2-3 days or so. Do I really need this much product? Many of them are already sample/travel size (in fact, almost all of them are), I have yet to use any of them up since at least a year.

So, here's the process that I went through to weed out unnecessary products, which are often disguised as must-haves.

First I grouped these products in terms of their functions.

As you can see, some of the products such as the Spice Sister Wax or Living Proof Styler can multitask. Right there and then, I can already spot some potential items to keep.

In the thickening group, I thought of the differences between these three products. Well, the Bumble and Bumble is used when the hair is damp, but it gives somewhat tacky finish. Ditto with Kevin Murphy, this one gives even more thickening power. I found that Percy & Reed Bodifying Cream gives the best of both worlds: thickening yet not too tacky. So this is the one that I keep.

The redundancy in the heat protector group is massive! Most of them are a variation of leave-in conditioner with perhaps some added benefit like tacky/grippy finish, glossy finish, etc. Kerastase Nectar Thermique is bar none the best product I've tried that gives my hair a silky smooth, glossy finish, whereas the Spice Sister Wax actually doubles as curl enhancer. So I keep these two.

In the texturizing group, the Spice Sister is already in (surviving the previous elimination). I use Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray and blowpro faux dry to give some grip to next-day hair, in case I want to braid or do the bun. The Oribe, although nice-smelling and really works, is honestly too overpriced (and overhyped) for the function; whereas blowpro sounds like a good overall texturizer/dry shampoo-in-one (did I mention that blowpro is unscented, too?). 

In the end, I kept only four: Percy & Reed Bodifying Cream, Kerastase Nectar Thermique, Spice Sister Wax and blowpro. 

... aah.. they do spark joy!
I used up the rest of the products and won't repurchase them anymore in the future (well.. except maybe for the Oribe if I run out of the blowpro).

Other examples of simplification that I've used for skin care:
  • Core routine of acid toner + retinol/retinoids + sunscreen.
    Inevitably, moisturizer and anti-oxidants will have sneaked in as vehicle of one of these, eliminating the need for separate moisturizer all together.
  • Nice-to-haves are non-foaming cleanser and serum.
    I think I'm done with expensive cleanser or cleanser obsession of sort. My goal is to use less commercial cleanser in lieu of bulk common products. For example, I've been using coconut oil with great result as makeup remover/first cleanse (I have dry skin -- probably not for those with oily or combo skin, unless you double cleanse and rinse using cloth). I also grew fond of cleansing with clay (just simply mix a bit water with clay as second cleanse or morning cleanse). Both coconut oil and clay can be bought in bulk for not much money at all.
    Serum is no longer a must-have for me as many of the formulation of good products would have already contained some antioxidants, humectants, etc. A serum worth buying for me would be something that has a good concentration of vitamin C (with appropriate pH) with loads of antioxidants and hyaluronic acid, in a packaging that protect the potency of the product.
  • Splurges would be facial oils for massage and masks.
  • Doing away with cotton buds/pads and switched to all cloth.
    I found cloth to be superior to disposable cotton in terms of cleaning surface (it is gentle and cleans well at the same time) and product absorption (I use so much less product because the cloth retain products so well than the product-waster, thirsty cotton pads). Sadly, I saw reusable cloth rounds sold for ridiculously expensive price, which makes me think of opening up my own business of sewing cloth pads and muslins.
... and here are a list of skincare items that I do not need:
  • Eye cream
  • Foaming cleanser
  • Facial mist, essence, etc.
  • Mechanical exfoliant
  • Lip scrub, mask, treatment, cleanser whatever (a dab of lanolin will do it all)
  • Cleansing device (Clarisonic, Foreo, etc.)
  • Cleansing wipe (actually, I do still use it for the Tod, but we keep these in the car)
  • Primer of any kind

Finally, I must admit that these products still have utility in my makeup cabinet:

  • Dual-phasic eye makeup remover, for those stubborn waterproof mascara
  • Cleansing oil (the kind that has petrolatum in it)
    As much as I want my coconut oil to dissolve all my makeup, I found cleansing oil is particularly effective in dissolving high-silicone content base products (including sunscreen). With that said, I have not replaced the gigantic Shu Uemura bottle that I finished this summer and have not missed it since.
  • Rubbing alcohol.
    For sanitizing and cleaning makeup tools like eyelash curler, to other general use. I always keep a big bottle.

For more inspiration, check out this post from Monika or for those who like to shoot for the stars, check out the Zero Waste Home. Using less products = producing less waste of packaging.

How do you make your decision to simplify your routine?


Coq au Vin

It was a drizzly, chilly early Autumn evening when I arrived in Paris, red-eyed from the long flight. The cobbled pavements were glistening under the street lamps. With a hazy head and restless legs, I hurried and huddled into a no-named bistro on rue de la Gaité, just a few blocks from an apartment which would be my home for the next two years. Inside, the steamy air filled with cigarette fume invited me to my first Parisian eating experience. After settling down with a glass of vin de maison, rouge, naturellement, came the humble dish of Coq au Vin before me.

Wait a minute! I think I'm in the wrong story -- my first meal in Paris was an overcooked burger at the airport because I was too darn hungry and the cobbled pavement? They were littered with les crottes de toutouTant pis.. but Coq au Vin is what we cooked today.

The truth is, just as I am turned-off by glorification of anything Parisian/Parisienne -- I'm not an old cynics yet, the city is magical but not the sort of instagram-kind of way -- I got turned-off by recipes that aim to recreates masterpieces of Michelin-studded restaurants. Recipes that read:
1 tablespoon of chopped cornichon, drained
2/3 of a cup finely julienned carrots
1/8 of a teaspoon minced garlic
just screams "Oh I'm so precise, I'm scaling it down for you, people at home." I'm cutting a whole carrot, or two, whatever, and if I'm only needing 2/3 cup of it, what the heck am I going to do with the rest of them?

In fact, the best recipes are those that are truly authentic, born out of necessities from normal, ordinary, muggle households all around the world, using accessible ingredients to make ends meet. The recipes may spell as, "Oh, yay-big of a carrot, a smidgen of herb, a glug of wine, yeah.. something like that!" Such is, what I believe, the spirit of Coq au Vin: a drunken rooster stew, using an old, tough rooster because a plump, fat hen coûte les yeux de la tête.

The proportion below is the result of trial-and-error chez moi. It is the friendly version for modern home-cooks, using items that you can easily find at your normal, modern grocery stores aka the plump, fat hen. This stew can be done in a dutch oven or slow cooker. Either way, do what's best for your family and I'm sure they'll appreciate it quand même.

Coq au Vin

Serves at least 4

A whole chicken, cut up into your preferred size, about 4-5 lbs, including bone, skin, neck and back (giblets can be included as well)

4 oz of bacon -- uncured/unsmoked would be nice, peppered variety is great, chopped

1 whole onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled

4 carrots, peeled and largely diced, divided

8 oz button mushrooms, quartered or halved

2 cups of dry red wine (like Burgundy)

Approximately 2 cups of chicken broth (water + bouillon cubes will work in a pinch)

Dried herbs of choice such as thyme, bay leaves, marjoram, sage, or even Herbes de Provence, amount approximately 1/2 - 1 teaspoon total. The classic ones are thyme and bay leaves, but I like the fragrant twist of marjoram and sage just goes so well with poultry.

1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste (a trick I learned from Julia Child's rendition. It adds a nice acidity and sweetness to the sauce. I have also used tomato ketchup in a pinch and it worked! Julia may approved, being the home-cook and all)

Few knobs of butter, reserved bacon fat, or olive oil, pick your poisson.

Fresh parsley, if you have some. Crusty bread, buttered potato, rice or pasta to serve.

I like to marinade the chicken using about 1 c of wine while preparing the rest of the ingredients. The wine steeps a layer of flavor into the chicken. If you wish, you can put the chicken on the kitchen counter but the safest way is to pop them back into the fridge while marinading.

In a heavy-bottomed pan or a dutch oven, render the bacon nice and crispy, about 8-10 minutes on medium-high heat. Reserve bacon using slotted spoon, and fat, if you wish.

Drain chicken pieces, reserving the wine. Pat dry, season each with salt and pepper. Brown chicken in batches, about 5-8 per side until skin is crispy and golden brown. Set chicken aside.

Add a drizzle of bacon fat/olive oil or a knob of butter. Reserve about a handful of chopped carrot and set them aside with the onion and garlic (I call this sacrificial carrots -- for this carrots will be used to flavor the sauce). Sauteé the rest of the carrots with mushrooms 5-10 minutes or until half-way cooked. Season with thyme, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Add yet another drizzle of oil into your pan. Sauteé the reserved, sacrificial carrots, onion and garlic until translucent, about 10 minutes, scrapping the pan of the brown bits. Deglaze the pan with wine and the reserve wine marinade, continue scrapping. Add the dried herbs, bacon (I usually reserve some because the boys like to crumble them on top for extra crunch), and tomato paste, stir and bring to boil.

At this time, if you are using slow cooker, you can move the content of the pan into the slow cooker. Adjust your slow cooking timer to manufacturer's suggestion for poultry dishes. Mine would be about 4-6 hours long. Continue on until the part where you take the chicken pieces out and reduce the sauce.

Arrange chicken pieces in single layer, preferably, with chicken breasts right on the very top, skin side up. The reason I do this is because I like my chicken breast nice and tender, instead of tough and overcooked. They are the first to be taken out, just as soon as they are done, falling off the bones yet still juicy inside, about 45 minutes of cooking/slow simmer. The rest can simmer much much longer. I even added the chicken breast bone & skin back into the pot to further infuse the sauce with the rich collagen.

Put everything in a gentle simmer for at least 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken.

Take out chicken pieces, set aside -- at this point, I usually go ahead and de-bone and de-skin them for easy eating.

Skim as much fat and sacrificial vegetables off the sauce as you wish (sometimes I leave them if I'm too lazy). Continue reducing the liquid in half, another 10-15 minutes over high heat. At this point, you can thicken the sauce using flour slurry (1:1 ratio of flour and melted/softened butter, kneaded together, about 1 tablespoon of flour per cup of liquid), or just leave it as is. Yet another version is to use immersion blender to blend the chunky vegetables into the sauce. Either way, don't forget to fish out your bay leaves before doing so. Tip the sauteéd carrots and mushrooms into the sauce to reheat them. Throw in chopped parsley and stir.

Plate buttered potato, rice or pasta. Pile the tender chicken pieces on top. Drizzle with sauce and imagine yourself sitting in some un-named bistro somewhere in Paris. Or on your own dining table with your loved one. Bon Appétit!


Thankful Tuesday: Fruits of Gratitude

"You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you, & allowing it to emerge" - Eckhart Tolle
Many people would identify themselves as "not religious but spiritual." To me, being spiritual means devoting life of daily spiritual "exercises." Like muscle, these virtues will strengthen over time when exercised, but not to be fooled by the competitiveness that is of-this-world, as these virtues are already within us at all times. All I need to do is to bring it out more and more into my way of life.

Such spiritual exercises are daily gratitude journal and meditation. These are exercises that I do daily to "remind" myself of who I really am: not my role as a mother, daughter, wife, employee, parent, or others. These exercises can seem mundane -- what's the point of giving thanks over and over and over again, or sitting quietly while watching mind chattering like bantering Minions.

What makes these exercises far from mundane is the fruit that I reap every now and then. Just like an apple fell suddenly from the tree, hitting Issac Newton's head, the fruit of spiritual practices are sudden yet bright moment of enlightenment. Issac could easily curse at the apple for giving him the goose egg, or, instead, he discovered one of the most fundamental theory of Physics.

Some may call this grace. In Zen Buddhism, this is called Satori. These fruits are but a moment, but when come, they are sweet as heaven itself. Pretty soon, the sweetness lingers and starts to permeate everything that I do. This is how transformation starts: some worries slowly disappear, some solutions find themselves out of problems, petty nuisances become reminder of how good life really is.

Here are some fruits that I reaped this week:

  • A surge of patience when the Tod was especially testy -- somehow I found it within me not to yell at him, yet redirecting him patiently, avoiding saying things that I would later regret.
  • Blessings that comes in the form of opportunities to exercise my creativity.
  • A sudden burst of appreciation of people around me, even those who I don't know personally yet contribute to making my daily life a more enjoyable one: friends who introduced us to yet another friends, bus driver who said hi to the Tod, the grocery clerk who asked if the Tod has had his choice of free fruit of the day, Tod's preschool teacher who asked me, "How are you doing? No, really, how are you?" 
  • I used to be able to paralyze myself to sleepless nights, thinking and worrying about things I've said and done to some people. Now I found myself doing it less and less.
  • A realization that lessons in life do not have to be "bad" lessons or wake up calls. Life gets really friendly when I go with the flow and noticing the little stuff, rather than choosing to indulge in "unconsciousness" of it.

Maybe the gift comes in a form of a taxi when you need it, or your being ok waiting for it. Maybe the gift comes from the green light so you won't have to hit the break. Maybe the gift comes from noticing the small gifts along the way. Isn't life a great adventure? 

Sending you all many blessings for this week. Please come back and share with us your discovery of the fruits of gratitude.


Remembering My Mother

Kamila - Kahlil Gibran's mother

Almost a month ago, my mother passed away peacefully. You may have remember a tribute to my mom on this post here. In the many days, weeks and months to come, I will continue my journey on this Earth while forging a new relationship with my mom in Spirit. I know that death is not the end of a relationship, it is just a journey to another adventure.

I think of the love we shared, yet so many times misunderstood. Now, without her physical body and mind, I am bestowed with a gift of my mom's pure love and presence -- the only "thing" that is left of her. There is a reason why she was my mother on this Earth, a reason I have yet and will continue to discover.

"Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself. But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires: 
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. 
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully."
-- Kahlil Gibran on Love