Sweet Treats: Mariage Frères Covent Garden

Sweet Treats: Mariage Frères Covent Garden

Madeleines and other desserts with tea at Mariage Frères ♥

I adore tea (some things never change!), and I always look forward to opportunities to try new varieties—particularly in lovely settings! Several years ago I was fortunate enough to be in Paris, and I convinced some family members to take a trip to Mariage Frères. I can’t quite recall where I heard of this company… possibly from a friend in Japan, as there are several tea salons from the brothers Mariage throughout the country. Our experience in the Paris tea salon remains a fond memory, so when I realized we’d be taking a trip to London I wanted to see if there was a Mariage Frères location even though it’s a French tea company rather than a British one.

I was lucky to travel with several extremely indulgent people who enjoy desserts, so not only did we visit—we returned! The tea emporium in Covent Garden deserves its name: it’s a large and well-appointed shop with a few museum-like areas and a restaurant. I believe it’s quite new; a few articles I read implied that it opened in 2019. (This article has some beautiful pictures of the emporium!) The tea shop sections on the first floor have an elegant dark-wood apothecary feel while the upstairs restaurant is crisp white with a somewhat tropical impression. A large skylight and tall front windows flood the emporium with natural light. I felt quite thankful that the hours are generous (10am to 10pm while we were there), as it enabled me to dart back for one last purchase before we headed home.

A small cherry blossom-themed cake that was unexpectedly blue!

Although they do offer a full tea service, both times we opted for pots of tea and a few desserts. The desserts varied each time, and our selections (a small citrus cake and a cherry blossom-themed cream dome) tasted marvelous and looked beautiful. A set of two tea-infused madeleines, a staple item on their menu, were so well-received that we ordered an additional set the second time. The tea infusions included Earl Grey—golden brown and so aromatic, the rich emerald tones and grassy notes of matcha, and bright pink floral fruitiness from a tea called “Happy”.

The teas themselves stood out as highlights. I could not have felt luckier to be in London for the sale of 2019 first flush Darjeeling—it’s probably my favourite varietal of tea, and all the shops were selling their new harvest! Mariage Frères offers Darjeeling from several different estates from the region. I loved being able to select from so many options and compare the tastes. (In the end, I brought home some from Monteviot… and considering that I can’t find it on the website, I’m particularly glad that I went back for it!) I wish I could have tasted them all; the Castleton, Monteviot, and Namring King Upper were all absolutely lovely. 🍃

Mariage Frères Covent Garden
Earl Grey and Happy madeleines with a cup of Castleton noveau 2019 Darjeeling ♥

Although I’ve enjoyed Darjeeling for many years, I didn’t really know as much about it until I started reading a few articles in my 2019 first flush excitement! I wasn’t aware that it’s a particular plant as well as from a specific region—Camellia sinensis var. sinensis instead of Camellia sinensis var. assamica (called “Assam”). It has smaller leaves and is harvested by hand. It’s grown at a higher elevation than most teas. It’s also subject to a significant amount of fraud: 40k tons are sold per year and 11k tons are produced per year. (I’m reminded of counterfeit concerns regarding olive oil and balsamic vinegar…) I feel even more appreciation for this tea now that I’ve done a smidge of reading about it! I plan to continue learning more.

I wish there was a Mariage Frères tea salon closer to my home… I’d love to be able to take a book there, order a pot of tea, and read. The setting, service, and quality of tea (and sweets!) definitely impresses me. Maybe someday the United States will get a location, but until then I’ll have to keep an eye out when I’m traveling!

Tea, tea, and more tea from my adventures in London!

At least I can now brew a few cups at home in my own tiny Mariage Frères tea pot! It was a gift, and one I am enjoying quite a bit more than I expected! It serves just under four teacups worth of tea and has a usefully wide opening at the top, as well as a generously-sized metal steeping basket. I’ve owned other petite tea pots that are more a of a nuisance to clean than they are worth or which don’t have enough brewing space for the leaves to open. The silver tea scoop is extremely pretty, as well, and I no longer feel anxious about using it since I learned how to properly polish my silverplate!

Of course, we didn’t stop only at Mariage Frères—I plan to share a few thoughts about the Twinings and TWG shops as well. 💕 Please look forward to it! ☕

On Being Lolita: Traveling Light

On Being Lolita: Traveling Light

(This post was originally begun in mid-2016… I’ve been meaning to post it all this time! Yikes!)

In early May of 2016, I was lucky enough to do something I have dreamed about for a long time: visit Japan! 💖 There were many things I wanted to do and see, but something that always remained in the forefront of my mind was my strong interest in lolita fashion. Shopping in Tokyo seemed like an obvious and essential part of the trip. Considering my travel companions and our shared interests, perusing clothing and accessories was assured.

Another important question became “what should I wear?” There are some for whom the answer “lolita fashion of course!” is an immediate response. Not so for me.

When I travel, I typically pack the minimum possible, always trying to fit my things into a smaller and smaller bag. I don’t enjoy dragging a heavy suitcase behind me or worrying where it’s going to fit. I rarely check luggage when flying, preferring to carry on what I must have. I feel secure enough without planning for every possible need, and I don’t mind improvising if plans change. I typically bring clothing that folds up to a small packet and doesn’t require ironing. (I’m also not a fan of space bags or packing cubes, although I know there are travelers who swear by them.) For these reasons, I rarely wear lolita when traveling.

Japan, however… to not wear the fashion I love so much in the place it originated… that seemed like a poor choice. So I set about to reconcile two somewhat-opposing desires: wear lolita fashion and bring minimal luggage.

Planning, Planning, and More Planning

jumperskirt, blouses, skirt, one-piece, and shoes selected for travel

I considered my goals for the trip. I knew that I’d be bringing things home with me, as I aimed to purchase clothing and other items, so it was important that I have enough room in my suitcases. Also essential: avoid airline overage charges related to baggage size, weight, and quantity. To do so, I needed to determine what must be packed versus what could be purchased at our destination.

The suitcases were my first step, mostly because my selection depended on what I already owned: a carry-on, a backpack, and a collapsible duffel bag. The collapsible duffel bag was purchased years ago to take to a doll-related event, and it has come in handy several times since. It fits nicely in the bottom of my suitcase, folded up into a pouch about as big as a folded pair of jeans, but when expanded it is large and durable, without running afoul of airline luggage policies. The duffel allowed plenty of space to bring souvenirs/etc. home.

That meant that the rest of my things needed to fit in the suitcase and backpack. Our trip involved 10 full days at our destination, not including the in-air travel time for our flights. Even though I hoped to buy frilly clothes in Tokyo that I could wear immediately, I planned for 10 days of outfits based solely on what I brought with me. I was very lucky to have access to laundry facilities during the trip; that made it much easier. (I’m not a big fan of washing things in a hotel sink; etc. My garments never seem to dry in time or launder well that way.) In fact, the neighborhood laundromat became a staple of Japan that we took full advantage of on this trip and the next!

As I wasn’t sure of the weather, I selected a jumperskirt, a short-sleeved one-piece, a skirt, a long-sleeved blouse, a blouse with detachable sleeves, and a bolero to coordinate during the trip. I packed a pair of pink lolita flats and a pair of low-heeled ankle boots, as I knew we’d be doing a lot of walking. Although some people recommend wearing one’s petticoat on the plane to save space in luggage, I packed mine in the zippered mesh pocket located on the lid of the suitcase. It compacted just fine! On the plane I wore a comfortable non-lolita dress that I thought would be easy to sleep in.

In Practice and Thoughts for Next Time

Lolita Packing - Ready for Purchases

(I didn’t know it at the time I started writing this article, but I went back the next year and was able to test some of my “planned improvements”, and they worked! I’ve done the same since then.)

The carry-on suitcase and backpack have been my traveling companions for years, and they worked just as well on this trip. I think what really mattered in this case was that I was familiar with them; I know their dimensions, pockets, and the right angle to roll the suitcase! (That’s what always trips me up when I help pull someone else’s wheeled suitcase!) We absolutely used the duffel, which we didn’t have any issues checking. An exciting bonus was that it was long enough to fit umbrellas! There was plenty of rain and some of the umbrellas/parasols we bought were too cute to abandon unless we had to. They survived the return flight just fine because they’d been cushioned with clothing.

slightly underestimated just how much clothing I’d be buying… and when reviewing, decided I would have been better off if I’d packed fewer items initially. (I never even wore the long-sleeved blouse or the skirt… I should have been more honest with myself about the coordinates I prefer to wear when given an option.) This varies for everyone, but I found plenty of new-to-me things to purchase, especially at secondhand shops. On our next trip, I packed fewer lolita clothing items (a blouse, jumperskirt, cardigan, and one-piece) and made stopping at Closet Child a priority upon arrival. I also didn’t pack accessories (hair accessories or jewelry) on the subsequent trip; I bought things when I found them and didn’t worry too much if I’d have worn something differently had I been at home. We were so busy with activities—museums, excursions to cultural sites, and meeting friends—that I found I was too occupied to fret over a bracelet or bow. I certainly restocked during the days we were there!

On a separate trip that also involved lolita fashion, we traveled somewhere with fewer laundry options and no clothes shopping, I packed an additional jumperskirt, two cardigans, and two short-sleeved cutsews. I did not bring a skirt, bolero, or a long-sleeved blouse. Having two jumperskirts, a one-piece, a blouse with detachable sleeves, two short-sleeved cutsews, two cardigans gave me plenty of options for a trip slightly under a week. I was able to do some spot-cleaning,  airing, and ironing to keep my clothes from looking or feeling “dirty”, but this might not be possible for everyone depending on the climate. If it’s too hot, too cold, or too dusty/gritty, it may not be possible to wear a limited wardrobe comfortably. That’s one of the reasons I don’t wear lolita every time I travel; I value a smaller suitcase over a full selection of clothes.

I realized that I needed to pack my camera in a slightly more easy-to-access part of my backpack, even though it’s very snug at the bottom. Some airports require that larger cameras are removed entirely from the case during security.

We got a lot of use out of laundromats and looked forward to them for the next trip. Even if we stayed somewhere with a washing machine, if the laundromat had a drier it was often beneficial to take the wet clothes over for a tumble if they could stand it. Sometimes there was too much humidity for air-drying to be prompt. When the temperature soared and threatened to roast us, having freshly-washed clothes felt like a luxury!

Lolita Packing - In the Suitcase

I didn’t follow a particular packing procedure (such as cubes, rolling, unique folding styles, etc.) for the suitcase… I tend to visualize the upright suitcase and aim for weight-distribution when it’s being rolled. I like to have shoes and heavier items near the “spine” of the handle and down by the wheels. I tuck grooming items (hairbrushes, etc.) along the sides and fill in spaces between shoes with small clothing items, with the goal of creating a flat layer that I can stack folded garments on top of. I use my suitcase’s built-in straps to help corral garments and winch a taller pile down to a shorter height, and I have more success with this if the item on top is roughly the size of the suitcase opening; I think of it like a tarp on a flat-bed truck! It worked just as well with lolita clothing as it does with anything else, and I was happy to find I didn’t unpack the most wrinkly stack of clothing in the universe.

With the ubiquity of 100-yen shops and convenience stores, as well as the novelty of 💕being in Japan with all the fun sparkly things💕, on our next trip I packed very few toiletries and consumable items. We purchased what we needed, and either left things behind or brought them home as “souvenirs”. When we purchased laundry detergent, we left what remained in the apartment for the next occupant or the property owner. When we needed first aid items, we brought the extra bandages and dressings home in the duffel bag. Buying cosmetics felt particularly thrilling despite the risk that they might not play nice with my skin; some of the packaging is so pretty that I couldn’t resist! ✨ Doing this wouldn’t necessarily be enjoyable or useful to everyone, but it made things easier for us.

A Note or Two in Closing

My traveling method won’t work for everyone. I’m related to a few people who can’t imagine not checking a large suitcase both ways and some others who can’t relax if they don’t have layers that accommodate all possible weather at their destination. I received peace of mind because I didn’t have to worry about how to physically carry my luggage (even the duffel is not so huge that my husband and I can’t maneuver it on trains or buses) and whether I’d be charged extra fees. We stayed in populated areas of Japan that made it possible to buy toiletries without spending a fortune and use laundromats.

I was, however, happy to find that it was possible to pack and wear lolita (including bringing clothing home) without requiring huge bags and strategy-related devices like packing cubes. It made me feel more confident about packing the clothes I enjoy wearing, and I’ve taken a few initiatives to wear them on other trips! ✈️

I’ve shared my thoughts here in the hopes that someone else may find it useful! Bon voyage! 🗼

On Being Lolita: “She Left Lolita”

On Being Lolita: “She Left Lolita”

Sometimes I get asked “Oh, how long have you been in the fashion?” and it takes me a minute or two to sort through things and remember when I began participating. (This is generally something I have a bit of a rough time with… length of time between dates… 😅 My poor siblings and husband are pretty used to this from me.) It’s interesting to look back on the years and see how much has changed; things were very different for the fashion in the mid-2000s. I try not to get too hung up on the “way things used to be”, but sometimes it’s hard to fully embrace the future when you have to let go of the past.

Especially when it means saying goodbye to others.

As someone who still wears this fashion (in fact, early 2010s me would be ⚡shocked⚡ that I now have enough frilly clothing and a lifestyle that would allow me to be a “daily lolita” if I were slightly less lazy), one of the things I regularly reminisce about are the people I’ve known. For me, the community has always been a significant part of the fashion—even though I am, admittedly, not always the most involved community member. The clothing itself defines my interest, but the friends I’ve made are more valuable to me than even my dear usakumya rucksack. 💖

I sometimes wonder whether I was lucky—if I a variety of factors I cannot control primarily contributed to the friendships that I’ve made, some of which have lasted over a decade. I consider if this scenario is typical, or perhaps an anomaly… and I believe that it’s both inevitable and beneficial, but not guaranteed. After all, despite the friends I still regularly interact with, there are others that I’m no longer in contact with due to changes in their lives or mine.

When someone chooses to “leave lolita” (no longer wearing the clothes or participating in fashion communities), it is not uncommon for friendships with other lolita to end as well, unless a few other factors were involved. It’s inevitable that people change and unrealistic to expect that shared hobbies and interests will remain static. This impacts any relationship: I have to acknowledge what exactly the other person and I enjoyed about each other’s company and whether our interactions were deliberate or convenient.

Sometimes you hear people speak of “lolita friends”; when this means “people I enjoy the company of, who share an interest in lolita fashion, and who I see primarily at fashion-related meetups” it is highly likely that if either party “leaves lolita”, the friendship will end. Often these relationships are built on convenient interactions—commenting back and forth in a group, chit-chatting during a tea party, attending or presenting a panel at a convention, etc. If the other person no longer participates in the lolita fashion interest and is not present for these types of interactions, the relationship slowly fades. If the bulk of conversation centered around fashion-related news, preferences, stories, etc. that well will run dry and silence settles in its place.

That said, if a friendship initiated by a shared hobby (such as fashion) has become something with a variety of enjoyable focuses (personality characteristics, shared interests, differing point of view, etc.) and interactions are deliberately initiated (inviting someone over, making plans to see a movie or attend an event, etc.), even if one hobby is no longer shared, there’s still enough substance to maintain the friendship. When I find that there’s someone I enjoyed conversation with at a tea party or picnic, it helps to reach out to spend time together and see what else we might have in common. (Honestly, this is just what I try to do, in general! Sometimes it’s so strange being an “adult” without school and other hobbies to make getting to know new people happen without much planning. It takes effort and sometimes it doesn’t work out, but it gets easier the more I try. 💗)

It’s not always possible (or advisable) to maintain a relationship with someone else—people’s lives and priorities change, on all sides. When I think on former friends that I don’t see anymore, I at least try to appreciate the positive memories. I’ve found more value in building new supportive connections than insisting on regaining something that existed in the past.

(Note: I started writing this in 2016… but it’s been something on my mind for a while, given all that’s changed in within the fashion itself and communities for it. Seems like no matter where you look, there’s always change… some of it’s good, some of it’s bad, but it’s going to keep on happening.)

Reading Corner: So Pretty / Very Rotten

Reading Corner: So Pretty / Very Rotten

I could not pass up the opportunity to read this book of lolita fashion-centric comics and essays when I learned that my public library had a copy! ♥ So Pretty / Very Rotten by Jane Mai and An Nguyen was published by Koyama Press in May 2017, so at the time I was able to read it the book was still quite recent!

I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I picked this up. I didn’t do much research on it prior to placing my hold with the library. I knew based on the description of the book that it would contain both essays and artwork. That was really it.

So Pretty / Very Rotten by Jane Mai and An Nguyen
So Pretty / Very Rotten by Jane Mai and An Nguyen

The book is arranged with comics drawn and written by both parties, supplemented with essays. The essays are based on research performed as part of An Nguyen’s thesis project. The comics are independent stories rather than illustrations of the research, although clearly the various interviews performed and other information gathered throughout the research period played a role in the comics as well.

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Update: Just Alice, Still Alice

Update: Just Alice, Still Alice

This poor, poor neglected blog.

Alice at the Kanji Museum

This face is a pretty good representation of what I’ve been doing in all the months I haven’t written here: thinking about what to write here. It’s not that I haven’t had content to write about—I still wear lolita fashion (more than ever, actually!) and still flail around in ballet class and still spend too much time musing over my thoughts and the various desserts I’ve set my sights on. (My Instagram account shows a pretty good representation of all the silly goings-on in my life!) I’ve gone on some trips that would be fun to talk about it. I’ve bought clothing and drank tea and basically kept on keepin’ on.

But I think what’ve been interfering have been some internal questions from me about blogging as a whole, as an industry.

And I think the answer is that it doesn’t really matter to me what blogging as an industry is doing. I miss writing and sharing, and as much as I adore Instagram and social media, it simply doesn’t allow for the long-winded descriptions I enjoy so much.

Because really, that’s just what I like. ♥ And that’s the whole purpose of maintaining this thing!

Ruffle Review: Q-Pot x Sailor Moon Jewelry

Ruffle Review: Q-Pot x Sailor Moon Jewelry

Q-Pot Arrival

Q-Pot is a company that I’ve known of for a long time, but I did not purchase any of their jewelry until I saw it at their Harajuku flagship store. When they released preview images for their summer 2016 collaboration with Sailor Moon, I was immediately smitten. I absolutely adore Sailor Moon, and now that I had seen and held Q-Pot’s jewelry I felt less hesitant about their prices.

I tracked the preorder dates, dutifully setting an alarm on my phone and registering for the Japanese warehouse website, ready to order. I expected delivery in October or November, per the terms of the preorder. It was a very pleasant surprise to receive an email in July stating that my order would soon be ready for shipping~! ♥

Unfortunately, from that point things became… less pleasant. Read more

Photo Set: Q-Pot x Sailor Moon Jewelry

Photo Set: Q-Pot x Sailor Moon Jewelry

Q-Pot x Sailor Moon

I am extremely happy to have received some lovely jewelry items from the Q-Pot summer 2016 collaboration with Sailor Moon~! ♥ It’s difficult to capture some of the nuances of these pretty pieces in pictures, but I tried to take advantage of a spot of sunshine to do so. These pictures will be presented without commentary, but I’m planning to follow up soon with a review. 🌟

Cosmic Heart Macaron Necklace

Q-Pot x Sailor Moon Novelty Fan

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Outfit Snap: Minori Meets Texas

Outfit Snap: Minori Meets Texas

…(And Alice Meets Minori ♥)

In early June, I traveled with the Lolita Collective to A-kon in Dallas, Texas. (It becomes clearer as I get older that I’m the kind of workaholic who finds nothing unreasonable about taking days off of work to do other work elsewhere!) I did not participate in most aspects of the convention; there’s a lot to be done when working, so my time was spent in the dealer’s hall unless it was closed—and that’s the best time for rest and nutrition. Because of this, I was not able to attend any lolita events. It was very exciting that Minori was in attendance, although I did not see her Q&A or the fashion show.

I felt very lucky to still be able to meet her—her table was located next to Lolita Collective in the dealer’s hall! ♥

Her interactions with her many fans were so heartwarming to watch! 💖✨ (I had many opportunities, after all, being nearby.) The level of excitement from her many fans remained very high, and it seemed like she was very kind and generous to everyone seeking her autograph or a picture with her. Her booth stayed quite occupied when she was present; her presence was clearly a much-desired attraction for the event!

Thankfully, she wasn’t so busy and I wasn’t so busy that I couldn’t take the opportunity to meet her as well~! 🌟 She was so nice, and so very-very-very-very cute!

Minori and me—this picture is from Minori’s Twitter! (Teppei Takazawa took this great picture—it looks great on Twitter!)

On Saturday she wore her “wormhole” outfit, inspired by the wormhole in the Christopher Nolan movie Interstellar. Her makeup and wig complimented the colours so beautifully! 🌠

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Ballet Barre: Six Months In

Ballet Barre: Six Months In

All of my positions need a lot of improvement. I’m trying to tuck my heel in, but I need to work on my turnout to do it well!

I’ve been taking adult beginner ballet classes for 6 months now~ I can’t say that I’m amazing at it or that I’ve seen all that much improvement, but I am still having a good time attending classes. ♥ The first two months–December and January–were a bit difficult for me to maintain regular attendance in class due to various holidays and spending time with my family. As soon as I was back in the city on a regular basis I did my best to commit to a consistent schedule.

It’s gotten much less scary the more regularly I attend! I look forward to being in class now, rather than forcing myself to go. I’m much more friendly with the other students; I’ve gotten over a good deal of my initial terrified shyness. There are a lot of very nice and very welcoming people that I enjoy taking class alongside. Despite my (understandably unreasonable…) fears, no one teases me or makes me feel like I am wasting time or space. I feel like I mark my weeks with the fun things I’m looking forward to: ballet class, knit night, game night~ 🌟

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Outfit Snap: Downton Abbeyish

Outfit Snap: Downton Abbeyish

Teatime at the Langham Outfit
I picked my accessories and other outfit pieces to match this jumperskirt, as I feel it has a 1920s impression to it.

In February I went to a teatime meetup at the Langham. The theme of the event was “Downton Abbey”, as that was the theme of the tea menu. No one was expected to wear costumes or go to great lengths to fit this theme, but it was something we agreed to keep in mind. It just so happened that I had an Innocent World jumperskirt (a Christmas present from 2013) that seemed like it could be a perfect choice for this occasion~

The jumperskirt in question has a dropped waist with a relatively narrow skirt, a style that reminds me of the popular drop-wasit dresses of the 1920s. It has many tucks, gathers, and embroidered lace adorning it. The off-white colour can be puzzling because the lace is a slightly different shade than the rest of the dress. Ultimately, this made it easier for me to match it up to other things in my wardrobe!

It would have been more period-appropriate to wear the dress without a blouse and with long gloves. However, I didn’t have gloves and worried about when I would ever use them again. I also prefer not to have bare shoulders even in warmer weather–and it was still frigid in February! It was a pretty mild day that day, still requiring being bundled up to avoid freezing.

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