A Guide to Surviving a Rainy Summer : Perfume and Hot Chocolate

“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Although Mark Twain never actually uttered this phrase famously attributed to him, had he spent the summer in Belgium, he would surely have come up with a quip along these lines. What do you think of when you hear about Belgium? Beer, chocolate, rain, Hercule Poirot? I haven’t spotted much of Poirot around, but beer, chocolate and rain are the leitmotifs to my Belgian impressions. And since I will be in Belgium for the next few months some time, I might as well get used to the rain.

Still, I can’t believe how cold the summer has been. On any given day, I wear a sweater and a jacket. I keep sunglasses and umbrella in my purse, because even if it’s sunny, the chances of rain are high.  The beer somewhat makes up for the cold weather, but since I shouldn’t rely on beer alone, I’ve been seeking solace  in other things. First of all, the warm, oriental style perfumes. Bombshells like Chanel Coco or Guerlain L’Heure Bleue are too much on days when the sun is warm and generous, but incense rich Diptyque Eau Lente, Annick Goutal Myrrhe ArdenteBy Kilian Rose OudChanel No 22 and Christian Dior Mitzah feel just right, whether it’s rain or shine. A recent discovery, Olfactive Studio Lumiere Blanche, with its creamy sandalwood drydown is another perfect warm accessory.

Of course, the idea of wearing an oriental fragrance in the summer isn’t just for those of us stuck in the rainy northern lands. My contributor Suzanna lives in hot and humid Florida, and she loves to wear perfumes accented with woody and spicy notes in the summer. Some of her favorites are the lighter versions of the rich orientals. For instance, she enjoys Guerlain Shalimar Light. “It is amazing in the heat, like a souffle of lemon, lime, and vanilla,” commented Suzanna. She also wears Guerlain Terracotta Voile d’Été, which she described as the soft, sweet carnation folded into the light vanilla. Finally, Boucheron Trouble Eau Légère Nacrée Iridescent is a fresher version of the original jasmine spiked Trouble that wears like a second skin in the warm weather.

As long as a perfume has a bright citrusy top note that cuts through the richness of the classical oriental base of vanilla, resins and woods, it can feel at once refreshing and comforting. Etat Libre d’Orange Fils de Dieu is another great example of such a summer oriental. It explodes on skin into a fizz of bergamot, coriander leaves and mandarin peel, but the drydown is a seductive veil of amber and sheer vanilla. Serge Lutens Mandarine Mandarin is a classical dark Lutens, but it has enough citrus sharpness to wear liket a weightless cashmere wrap (as opposed to Ambre Sultan‘s fur coat). For a woody oriental twist, I like L’Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu, which smells like antique sandalwood carvings, sweet pine sap and damp stones.

I asked Suzanna to mail me some of the Florida sunshine, and while it’s making its way through customs, I’m finding more solutions to make the cold summer more bearable. This may sound trivial, but having a brightly colored umbrella makes a world of difference. If you would rather not sport a shocking pink parasol in public, even a green or blue shade feels more festive. Wearing bright colors helps as well. My wardrobe is still very much New York standard–all black, but I’ve enjoyed spotting bright colors on women (and men) around Brussels–bright orange tights, red ballet slippers, purple scarves, and emerald green ties.

Nepalese food was the last thing I thought I would discover in Belgium, but there are many restaurants and even grocery stores carrying Nepalese menus and ingredients. Spicy lentil soups and fragrant curries are perfect on a cold gloomy day. Shortly after my arrival, I stocked my pantry with different types of dried chilies, from mild red chilies that taste of apricots to fiery bird chilies that set my mouth on fire. I add them to pasta sauce or use them to spike simple meat stews.  The lingering warm sensation of chilies is very pleasant, but of course, you have to pick a level that’s right for you. Whenever I entertain guests who can’t tolerate chilies, I substitute a mix of black pepper, cinnamon and cloves. All of those spices are warming, and they can create interesting flavor accents that enliven everyday cooking.

Finally, a cup of hot chocolate on a cold day is just about the ideal panacea. My favorite hot chocolate recipe is by the French pastry chef Pierre Hermé, who has been dubbed the Picasso of pastry for his inventive desserts. His recipe for decadent hot chocolate appears in Jeffrey Steingarten’s book It Must’ve Been Something I Ate, and I haven’t found anything better. It produces a rich, silky beverage and the taste of chocolate shines through clearly. This means that you should use the best chocolate you can find.

Pierre Hermé’s Classic Hot Chocolate
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups whole or skim milk
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup (28g) cocoa powder
1/4 cup sugar
3 1/2 ounces (100g) bittersweet chocolate, such as Lindt, Scharffen Berger or Valrhona 70% cocoa

Method:
Bring the milk and sugar to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add water and cocoa powder and mix well. Let the mixture simmer for 4-5 minutes to remove the raw taste of cocoa powder. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until the chocolate dissolves and the mixtures thickens. Remove from the heat and serve. The leftovers, if there will be any, should be stored in the fridge and reheated or enjoyed cold as chocolate pudding (it thickens as it cools).

How is your summer so far? Do you have any tips to survive the rainy days?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, all rights reserved.

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48 Comments

  • Cristina: Belgium? Looking forward to perfume experiences country related. June 11, 2012 at 7:50am Reply

    • Victoria: I’ll be sure to share them! 🙂 June 11, 2012 at 8:59am Reply

  • Kurt: Using a ridiciously summery, tropical shower gel, in abundance, usually does the trick. A current favourite is Yves Rocher Monoï de Tahiti. June 11, 2012 at 8:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Sounds like a great idea! I have some Nuxe oil, which is scented with monoi and it feels so comforting. June 11, 2012 at 9:00am Reply

    • Brian Shea: Oh, I love that stuff. My mom, who is a big Yves Rocher fan and customer, gave me a bottle once. It does truly have the scent experience of being on a tropical island! June 23, 2012 at 9:01am Reply

  • Annemarie: Welcome to Europe! I live in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and it will be interesting to read your experiences at this side of the ocean.
    For rainy days: put on some warm, waterproof gear and go walking. It’s very rare that it is raining all day and in between the showers you can enjoy nature/the city and all its fragrances to the fullest. After your hike treat yourself to some hot chocolate and a waffle with warm cherries and whipped cream. June 11, 2012 at 8:36am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Annemarie! Great suggestions that I’ll be sure to use. 🙂 I’ve noticed that the rain comes in spurts. This morning I managed to do my errands and it was nice and sunny, but the moment I got home it started pouring. On the other hand, it feels great to go for a walk after the rain when the air feels crisp and everything smells of damp stones and wet linden and mock orange blossoms. June 11, 2012 at 9:04am Reply

  • anette: have a nice time in Belgium,
    hope you enjoy ‘ les senteurs d’ailleurs ‘ in Brussels , in Antwerp too you will find great shops!
    looking forward to reviews,
    anette June 11, 2012 at 8:42am Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t yet made it there this time, but in the past I’ve been completely enchanted by this store. The selection is impressive.
      Antwerp is still on the list of places to visit. June 11, 2012 at 9:05am Reply

  • Suzanna: Pink parasol: Coincidentally, I bought one on Saturday for one of our rare rainy days (we are in drought and the lakes are mostly gone here).

    With all those dazzling aldehydes, No. 22 will cut through any weather.

    I love these street photos. More! A vicarious visit to Brussels is much appreciated. June 11, 2012 at 8:50am Reply

    • Victoria: No 22 works so well, I’ve discovered. The aldehydes give it a pleasant lift, while the incense and vetiver drydown is comforting and warm.

      I have a small lilac-pink umbrella that bought at Marshall’s. It’s tiny, so in serious rain it’s useless, but as something to carry in my purse just in case, it works well. And it looks so festive.

      I’ll be glad to share more photos! June 11, 2012 at 9:15am Reply

  • Nikki: How lucky you are! Count your blessings because if there should be another heat wave in Europe, you would truly suffer as very few people have A/C and it gets so muggy. The rains will stop soon, rest assured. You are so close to everything, how wonderful! Seize the day, enjoy the rain, get some vanilla perfumes by La Maison de la Vanille, or even try Reminscence (I assume they have it in Brussels), their Patchouli is a great oriental for rainy days. June 11, 2012 at 10:20am Reply

    • Victoria: If there will be a heat wave in Europe, Brussels will suffer in full measure. But so far the summer has been cold pretty much everywhere in Europe. Between a heat wave and a constant rain, I would take the rain, as I don’t tolerate heat that well, but well… what can do you about things beyond one’s control? A couple of years a heat wave hit NY just as our AC broke down. At home I wore a sarong and pretended that I’m in a sweltering resort town. 🙂
      Reminiscence Patchouli has been on my wishlist for a while, so it’s a good opportunity to try it. June 11, 2012 at 10:36am Reply

  • marsi: I loved your photos and I want more! I printed out your hot chocolate recipe and I’ll be making it tonight. Our summer is also cold.
    My cold summer perfume is L’Artisan Havana Vanille. I went through two samples in record time. It is so different from the scents I generally love, but so good. June 11, 2012 at 11:17am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Marsi. I hope that you enjoy this hot chocolate. It’s decadent, but because it’s made with milk and water, it doesn’t have the cloying richness of hot chocolates made with all milk or with milk and cream. In one of his books Pierre Herme had a recipe for hot chocolate with only water, and it’s fantastic. Very similar to the one above, with slightly different proportions of chocolate to water. June 11, 2012 at 11:41am Reply

  • Elizabeth: Then I need to get myself to Europe right away! You see, I am a bit of a freak. I have a form of Seasonal Affective Disorder that starts not in winter, but in summer. Once the temperature starts to rise, I become miserable and develop severe insomnia. Happily, I will be spending a good deal of the summer in northeast Germany, my boyfriend’s homeland. He says that summers tend to be rainy and cool there as well. I cannot wait to get out of the steam bath that it New York! My perfume choice will be Bijou Romantique. PS: Enjoy a Leffe Blonde for me – that’s my favorite Belgian beer. 🙂 June 11, 2012 at 11:22am Reply

    • Austenfan: Leffe Blonde is great! Although I must admit liking Leffe Radieuse a bit more. June 11, 2012 at 11:24am Reply

      • Victoria: Adding it to my list to try! I don’t think that I’ve figured out what I like or not, so it helps just to taste many different varieties. But Belgian brewers’ ability to create complex flavors with spices, honey, etc. are very impressive. June 11, 2012 at 11:51am Reply

    • Victoria: I can relate to this, in part. I don’t like the hot and humid weather, and I burn within seconds. So, the typical NY summers are tough for me. On the other hand, some sunshine wouldn’t hurt!

      I think that Leffe Blonde was the first Belgian beer I’ve tried. Now, I never liked beer, but I think that my early experienced with bad beer tainted my perception. Belgian beers have made me appreciate this drink much more. June 11, 2012 at 11:49am Reply

    • Wendy: Dear Elizabeth! You are not a freak (because then I have to admit i am, too…). I would actually take it up a notch: I HATE summer with a vengeance. I will probably pay for this but I am loving the current spring in Europe! (in the Netherlands there is actually a website devoted to summer depressives.. all likeminded souls like you and me :-))
      Victoria: Brussels is heaven for perfume lovers. Enjoy your time there!
      Cheers, Wendy June 12, 2012 at 2:28am Reply

      • Victoria: No, you guys aren’t freaks, you’re unique and special! 🙂

        Thank you, Wendy! I’ll have to explore a bit more. June 12, 2012 at 3:06am Reply

  • Austenfan: Brussels is such a beautiful city, if a trifle chaotic. Senteurs d’Ailleurs is very much worth a visit; I got my Malles there.
    Le Palais des Thés has a shop there, just a street or two off the Grote Markt/ la Grand-Place.
    The Museum of Brussels, which is on the Grand-Place is worth a visit. A lovely building and quite informative about the city.
    I am not surprised that you can find eastern food stuffs there. It is quite a cosmopolitan city. Great for walking around in. Have fun while you are there! June 11, 2012 at 11:23am Reply

    • Victoria: Brussels reminds me of NYC in terms of the mix of people one encounters, and this cosmopolitan aspect is what I like the most. Oh, and the food!

      I’ve been to Brussels about a few times already, but this is the longest I’ve stayed. So, I’m discovering different things and places.

      I’ll have to visit The Museum of Brussels at last. During the week it closes by the time I’m done with work, and on the weekends, we aren’t often in the city. But after your recommendation I’ll be sure to stop by. Thank you! June 11, 2012 at 12:09pm Reply

  • iodine: I’d enjoy a cool summer! And maybe a bit rainy… Summer can be lethal in continental Europe, let me dream about an Atlantic one! Warm tea, a good book, a comforting scent… I’ve just bought La Traversée du Bosphore, I’ve fallen in love after having discovered how perfect is in hot weather and with sudden changes in temperature!
    Enjoy your Belgium, the beer world, there, must be as wide and scented as Perfumeland! June 11, 2012 at 12:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m not really complaining, as I generally don’t tolerate the heat well. The only thing is that I got sick with bronchitis within days of arriving, and I’ve having a hard time getting back on my feet. One thing is true–I can find more ways to keep warm than to stay cool during a heat wave!

      You’ve inspired me to wear some Traversée du Bosphore, and you’re right, it wears like a sheer cashmere wrap. June 11, 2012 at 3:02pm Reply

  • Katrin: Oh for a cold summer! I’ll dream about it while in the air conditioning here in hot, muggy St. Louis. June 11, 2012 at 2:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: I can send you some cool North Sea breeze, if you like! 🙂 I’ll only ask a bit of the Midwestern sun in return. I’ve lived for several years in Chicago, so I remember well the summers you’re describing. June 11, 2012 at 3:05pm Reply

    • Wendy: Ah? You are in St Louis? I’ll be there in 2013 for a conference! Is it any good for perfume shopping? Any tips would be highly appreciated! Cheerswendy June 12, 2012 at 2:30am Reply

  • Anna Minis: Enjoy your stay in Brussels! I was there in the nineties, don’t know how it is now. I took with me a bottle of Ivoire, gave me that elegant French feeling (It is Belgium, of course, but with French flavour). Great opportunity to buy French books. And if you have time: go to Gent. The Altar of Van Eyck is one of the most beautiful and impressing things in the world. Be careful with your bronchitis! June 11, 2012 at 5:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Anna! I’m trying to take care and stay warm. I’ll be back in shape soon, I hope. 🙂

      Thank you also for your recommendation–any others are more than welcome! I usually have time on weekends, so I’ll definitely be sure to go. June 11, 2012 at 5:21pm Reply

    • Austenfan: I second the recommendation of a visit to Gent. It’s quite as beautiful as Brugge, but feels more like a living city. The Van Eyck alone is worth a visit. Great restaurants as well. I recently visited their Beaux-Arts, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
      I also quite like Leuven, which has another beautiful triptych in the St.Peterskerk. It also boasts one of the largest Béguinages in Europe. June 11, 2012 at 6:03pm Reply

      • Victoria: Brugge feels like an antique jewelry box!

        Thank you for these recommendations! My list of things to do on the weekends is growing. 🙂 June 12, 2012 at 1:37am Reply

      • Victoria: By the way, the rightmost photo in the top collage is from Leuven. It’s one of the statues decorating the town hall. June 12, 2012 at 5:07am Reply

  • Rose D: I wish I had a little rain here, in the middle of the desert! Most days (and nights) are too warm to wear heavy scents and finding perfumes that are both light and interesting is a challenge. Luckily, I recently have been enjoying Water Calligraphy by Kilian and the bath and body line of Eau d´Hadrien by Annick Goutal. June 11, 2012 at 11:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: Eau d´Hadrien soap is wonderful! I don’t know if it’s still being made, but I loved it. Water Calligraphy has been my own staple lately, whatever the weather. It’s so easy to wear and it feels elegant and polished. I get lots of compliment on it. June 12, 2012 at 1:31am Reply

  • Undina: I would have been envious but our summer hasn’t been too warm so far (no rains though) and I love it this way.

    Enjoy your time in Belgium (and we need more pictures!) June 11, 2012 at 11:45pm Reply

    • Victoria: Please don’t be envious of my grey, mucky weather! Plus, this sort of summer comes in a package with the grey and overcast winters, springs and autumns, so a year without summer is hardly appealing (and depressing). This summer has been particularly cold (in the 50s on average; it’s 50F right now).

      But I knew that weather was the biggest drawback to the life in Belgium and have been warned before I came. Thankfully, there are plenty of things to make up for it, and even on cold days, people walk around eating ice cream, drink beer at the outdoor cafes and generally enjoy themselves. I would be happy to share more pictures. June 12, 2012 at 1:27am Reply

  • Kaori: You are such a great photographer! Amusez-vous bien:)

    Kaori June 12, 2012 at 5:04am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re too kind, Kaori! Thank you, I’m glad that you’ve enjoyed them. 🙂 June 12, 2012 at 5:11am Reply

  • Anna Minis: Hi Victoria, are you already a little bit used to the Belgian weather? In the St Michel & Ste. Gudule cathedral, there is a black clothed, mourning Madonna. The statue is brought to Brussels by the Spaniards. It is not a great piece of art, but it is very moving. Interesting: the Erasmus house in Anderlecht. In the guestbook, people correspond in Latin. In Anderlecht I found the best patates frites of Brussels, with a glass of Stella…but you have such a refined taste, I think that’s not your cup of tea! June 12, 2012 at 7:54am Reply

    • Victoria: Getting used to it, Anna! After all, I grew up in Ukraine, so I’m no stranger to cold summers. 🙂 I bet that I’ll handle it better once I get over my cold.

      Thank you for your other recommendations. My tastes are very eclectic, and good French fries are among my favorite things. When we lived in NY, we used to go to the Belgian pub and Stella + patates frites was one of my favorite treats. June 12, 2012 at 8:14am Reply

  • Rowanhill: Welcome to Brussels and bon courage with the weather. If it improves try the Wednesday afternoon food market at Place du Châtelain. It runs until about 19.00. Not only is there a great selection of good food but it is a social gathering with crowds of people enjoying a drink outside. If you would like any tips for restaurants to make the current state of affairs bearable indoors, please do let me know. June 13, 2012 at 12:53pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thanks a lot! That’s very helpful, and I didn’t know about this market. I’ve just made a note to check it out. I would love any tips for food shopping and various specialty stores, if you know of any. June 13, 2012 at 1:53pm Reply

      • Rowanhill: Rue du Page leading off of Pl. Du Chatelain offers plenty of restaurant choices, just take your pick. One of my favourites is the basque place Fils de Jules. Mamma Roma’s pizzas are great, especially the potato and truffle one. Lili Cup a bit further up the street is the cutest little cafe with delicious and very innovative cup cakes. July 3, 2012 at 4:30am Reply

  • Brian Shea: It’s funny that you wrote this article now as I’ve been fiending for Oriental notes for the last month now, although that has mostly translated to surrounding myself with fragrance rather than wearing it myself; Fred Sol’s Honey Amber incense, Sandalwood and Agarwood incense from Shiseido, Triloka’s variety packs, frankincense tears, and dropping oils of myrrh, ylang ylang, clove, allspice, and balsam tolu on my lightbulb ring. I’ve been using soap scented with amber and patchouli too. I have however put some Oriental type scents on a bit here and there, I actually spritzed on some knockoff Opium I found at CVS for the heck of it-it was actually nice! Who knew. Actually a craving for Opium out of the blue started my whole Oriental obsession. Also a co-worker has been wearing it too.
    It also has been extremely rainy here in Miami for the last week and I suppose it could be possibly be considered cool for a Miami summer; it was 79 the other afternoon. However it was in the 90’s and sunny a couple of weeks ago and I was still in Oriental mode. June 24, 2012 at 11:53pm Reply

  • Brian Shea: Oh, by the way that hot chocolate recipe sounds incredible! June 24, 2012 at 11:57pm Reply

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