004: An Acid Trip and Cheese Yoga
Part I: Rage Your Face Off
Taylore: How are we doing? How was your coup? Are we in hell? I’m truly hoping that we get to see most of these dangerous dipshits hoisted with their own petards, including Trump himself, but maybe that’s too optimistic. Or maybe he’ll be impeached by the time you read this, who knows. I’ve been coping as I usually do, with a visit to Discovery Wines, where I found one of my new favorites: Brutal De Jean Marc 2019. It’s a sunny, grapefruit-y Gewürztraminer/Riesling/Pinot Gris blend the color of hazy marmalade. I would buy a couple more bottles and save them for warmer weather, but I don’t have nearly enough self-control to make them last.
Aside from the wine, I’ve been leaning into testing new skincare to rejuvenate myself: exfoliators, specifically. With my redness-prone skin, I try and avoid testing too many formulas at once, but it’s time to update my recommendations for buffing away what holds us down. *I gET a L0T oF QueSTi0Ns AbOUt My SkiNCARe R0uTinE* and lately, it’s readers asking for help with uneven tone, dark spots, scarring, and a general lack of glow. Because if there’s anything that seems to help people feel in control, it’s burning their fucking faces off.
There’s an innate desire to pick and pull and cleanse ourselves when we’re stressed. It’s why we shred our nails, pop every pimple until they bleed, and even pull out our hair when we’re anxious. For some it’s just a bad habit, or it can manifest deeper in the mind: episodes of excoriation disorder, a skin-picking condition that leads to the uncontrollable urge to scratch or pluck at body parts, can be triggered by stress. A friend and former coworker of mine used to do at-home chemical peels when she felt overwhelmed, and the following day, I’d find her raw and ruddy, peeling off dead skin in crinkly shards at her desk. Seek and destroy.
That need to preen our feathers when we feel like shit inside makes sense; propping up our exterior can make us feel more in control. We can wipe away what doesn’t serve us with a damp cotton pad, and flush the dead cells and dread down the toilet. The good news is there’s a healthy way to act on this impulse, and that’s with acids. Incorporating them into to your skincare routine can reboot a tired complexion, and thus a frenetic mind. They can help shed dead cells, improve the appearance of lines and wrinkles, and even help excavate gunky pores. Those dark spots leftover from acne and sun damage? They don’t have to be so noticeable! You just need to build your acid arsenal.
While I could go on forever about the details, to put it simply, acids can be divided up into two groups: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). AHAs like glycolic and fruit acids are best for rejuvenating the skin’s surface (think plumping wrinkles, brightening, and evening out tone), while BHAs like salicylic acid can penetrate pores to treat acne and cleanse at a deeper level. If you want more info or recommendations just drop me a DM. But since we’ll be on the subject of cheese later in this letter, I’m going to suggest one dairy-adjacent aoption basically everyone can benefit from: lactic acid.
As you might know, the human body is already acquainted with the AHA. Part of the reason it's so compatible with the skin is because it's produced naturally in the muscles and red blood cells, as well as during the fermentation process of turning milk into the yogurt and cheese we consume. Even the ancient Egyptians—most notably Cleopatra—knew the benefits of lactic acid for the skin: they would bathe in sour milk as a beauty ritual, long before the science behind the practice was figured out. Now, it's in dozens of products that give skin a lit-from-within glow. And unlike other acids, it actually attracts moisture from the air to hydrate the skin while it’s working, so even those with dry and sensitive skin types can use it without fear. (Disclaimer, all AHAs can make skin more sensitive to the sun, so apply it before bed or use a sunscreen if you really need to use it in the AM.)
Here are a few lactic acid products I’m into. Again, if you have any questions about how to use them, just DM me! Rage on.
Part II: Healing Through Cheeses
Christine: Have we all recovered from the insurrection at the Capitol? Not shaken at all? Totally chill about the warlike actions taken by MAGA that apparently we’re just blowing off now? Same!
Each day this year has felt different, and I’m trying to keep up. Last night, I stayed up late to write, then woke up late this morning (Monday) to a gray day. The rest of the day has somehow both stood still and completely hurtled past me.
I’m not going to do a “so that’s why we have cheese!” thing because that feels disingenuous (and also is SO not why we have cheese). That said, I do find that food has the ability to place me back into the moment when I’m willing to take the time to be present with it. I’ve called cheese tasting “cheese yoga” before, and TBH it’s my favorite kind of yoga.
When I’m teaching a cheese class, I suggest that folks go through a brief sensory assessment of the cheese before tasting it or even deciding whether they like it. With wine, you have vintages, but with cheese, each batch is essentially a new “vintage.” Depending on the season, what the animals ate and where they are in their lactation cycles, and the choices by the cheesemaker, you could be tasting something quite different than the last time you ate the exact same cheese.
I lead people through this mostly because you get to know the cheese better in doing so—you’re interacting with it in a way that sticks in your memory. If you’re paying the money for good cheese, you may as well take the time to enjoy it. But, I also find this exercise is useful for getting back into my body.
A lot of us are feeling disembodied these days. We stay at home all day, staring at a computer screen because capitalism. Then, we eat some DoorDash, stare at a bigger screen to unwind (or maybe the same one but this time with the browser on Netflix), and go to bed. Sometimes, that’s fine and sometimes it’s soul-crushing. If you’re feeling like a blob, here is a tiny cheese mindfulness exercise you can try.
First, study it. What colors are you seeing? What textures? Is there a rind (an outside coating)? How does that differ from the paste (the rest of the cheese)? In softer cheeses, there may be kind of an oozy halo immediately under the rind. That’s called a creamline (hey! Like our newsletter!) and what you’re seeing there is the ripening process in action.
Try not to leave the description at “it looks like a brie” (or parm or whatever). Even cheeses made in similar styles can look quite different. Fromager D’Affinois, for instance, has a smooth, consistent white rind with evenly spaced ridges. There may be a bit of slightly orangey color in there, but it’s mostly white.
Brie Fermier, on the other hand, has a thinner rind that’s also white, but usually has gray or brown mottling. It may be a bit flakier or even cracked.
Neither of these cheeses is made on a teeny tiny scale, but the inconsistency in the appearance of the Fermier suggests that it’s made on a smaller scale, with less industrial intervention.
Feel the cheese in your hands. Play with it a bit. Is it sticky? Smooth? Does it feel rubbery? Tacky? Crumbly?
Then, stretch your cheese a bit or break off a piece. Give it a whiff. You may have participated in wine tastings where they tell you to swirl your glass. While plenty of pretentious folks do that I’m sure, this is actually not pretense or pageantry—by swirling the liquid, you’re releasing the aromatics. Swirling your cheese doesn’t have quite the same effect, but stretching or breaking it does.
Next, try to pick out a few aromas that you’re getting. The words may not come right away, and that’s okay! Most of the time when we’re talking about food, we’re talking about how we feel about it, rather than trying to describe it.
Cheese in particular can be tricky to describe. Wine aroma words are much more glamorous—plum, tobacco, autumn leaves, baking spice, whatever. Cheese often smells more along the line of gym sock, grandma’s basement, barnyard, mushrooms that have been left in the fridge for too long, a wet dog, farts (I generally describe this as “brassica-y” in more polite settings), etc. But, that’s just what cheeses smell like sometimes! That’s okay!
Add a y to anything and it counts as an aromatic descriptor. Hot Nintendo-y, broccoli cheese soup-y (Brie Fermier = garlicky broccoli cheese soup and it’s GLORIOUS) moldy gym bag-y, wet towel-y (got that one from a class I taught on Zoom last night). These are all great aromatic descriptors. You’ll have more fun and actually be better at this if you’re willing to be a little silly.
By smelling it before you taste, you’re getting a preview of the flavor. Aroma is about 90% of flavor. Technically, your tongue just picks up a few things—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. Also worth noting that your mouth is pretty warm, at just under 100 degrees. That heat will likely unlock some new aromas.
So, when you finally put it on your palate, notice the way that aroma evolves into flavor. Does it taste the same way that it smelled? Also, notice the texture—is it what you thought it would be? Finally, do you like this cheese?
I would love to be one of those people who did yoga to feel more present in the moment on days like this, but I am not. Maybe one day, but today is not that day. Instead, I’m going to do some mindfulness work around cheese. Join me in some cheese yoga, won’t you?
Here’s another round of questions because we’re both overwhelmed this week!
Worst hangover of your life:
TG: The morning after the college cheerleading national championships at Disney World in 2014. (If you watched Netflix’s Cheer, this is pretty much the same competition that Navarro was working towards—just for a different division.) The night prior, my team had attended the cheerleaders-only after hours party at the Magic Kingdom, where athletes, mascots, and coaches alike were riding coasters and drinking themselves into oblivion—both in victory and defeat. We had lost, so we gave ourselves over to airplane bottles of Smirnoff from the minibar and the Disney-fied version of an LIT (fluorescent blue, naturally). At one point, we got stuck on the Tower of Terror with a co-ed team for about 30 minutes, a dark, fuzzy time during which I witnessed urination (inconspicuous), a sex act (conspicuous), and vomiting… *literally* inside in the Twilight Zone. I never went to bed and the hangover set in around 8AM while we were making our way through TSA, at which point I became convinced I was going to die wearing Soffe shorts in the middle of the Orlando airport. My brain was pickling in an Avatar-hued blend of cheap spirits, so reader, I was already dead.
CC: New Orleans 2019 with my friend Elissa. We started the day at Bacchanal, which is a strong move if don’t mind being destroyed the next day. After two bottles of Champagne, we realized that Sazeracs were half off and I think ordered 5 each. Maybe more, because I know we had some doubles. Anyway, the day ended at Saint-Germain where I FaceTimed half of my contacts list, poured glasses from our bottles for strangers, and broke a glass on the bar. After sleeping on the bathroom floor of the AirBnb, I barely made my plane the next morning. To this day, I’m proud that I didn’t throw up on the Uber ride to the airport. Oh, and then because I was an idiot and booked a cheap SpiritAir flight, I RODE A BUS from Boston to Burlington, Vermont. I’m so happy to never have to live that day again.
On that note, what’s your hangover order?
TG: A toasted everything bagel with extra vegetable cream cheese, large iced oat milk latte, mini carton of Tropicana orange pineapple juice, and four Advil liqui-gels.
CC: A whole wheat everything bagel, absolutely loaded with plain cream cheese, never toasted. Extra points for an iced oat milk latte.
One meal you’ve been thinking about lately:
TG: One solo night in Rome in 2019, I landed a seat at the chef’s table at Retrobottega. The dinner was one little pleasure after another: grainy crackers smothered in mayonnaise, zucchini with prunes and spirals of sweet lard, braised beef topped with muddled raspberry and helichrysum, and sun-shaped anolini stuffed with sheep’s milk cheese and licorice. There was crab risotto, lemon tartlets, squab, and near-endless glasses of local wine and amaro. Unholy, and unfortunately, out of reach for now.
CC: I’ve been craving comfort food lately, and have been flashing back to the floppy, warm bean and cheese burritos that I eat when I’m in LA and at home in Arizona. The refried pinto beans must be a little smoky, the cheese must be melty yellow cheddar, the flour tortilla must have fully embraced the gooey mess inside and be a little tender to the touch. There has to be plenty of salsa for me to drizzle atop it. Best enjoyed at your parents’ kitchen table while drinking a Diet Coke.
A book you feel like you should have read:
CC: I have a hard time with fiction. I love it, and the fiction books I read make a greater impression on me than anything else, but I can only handle a few novels every year. I’ve been meaning to read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous because I know I’ll love it (I think about Ocean Vuong's On Being episode on an almost-daily basis), but it just hasn’t happened for me yet. Maybe this year.
TG: While I can consume an endless amount of fiction, Christine fully read my mind on this one with On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Vuong’s poetry is outstanding (I’ve been thinking about his reading of Aubade with Burning City a lot lately as its winter wartime imagery feels timely) but I still haven’t gotten around to his novel. This is the year, Christine.