“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 Ardente, By Kilian Rose Oud, Chanel 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
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
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.