Friday, November 26, 2010

Mostly Birds, With a bit of Ice Cream

Oops! Meant to put this up Friday. I got busy with company instead. No, no Black Friday Shopping! I hate crowds and I hate mornings, unless I wake up naturally, so that's not for me.

How nice of Ma Nature to give that house a little bay of its own.

Well, Thanksgiving is done. We had quite the religious gathering, with an Episcopal priest and deacon, 3 Presbyterian pastors and a Presbyterian Lay preacher. We had a blast, telling stories, laughing ourselves silly and eating huge amounts of food. Our friend Jill has the most amazingly infectious laugh. But we were thoughtful, too and we all had a very good time. Now it is time for the serious business of leftovers. We ate fairly late, so there were no turkey sandwiches, but you can be sure they are on the menu for today.

For breakfast we are having French toast made from pannettone, that wonderful eggy, buttery Italian holiday bread. If you've never had any, hop on out to TJ Maxx or Marshall's and get one. We'll be having Earl Gray with it, as I think the lemony taste of the bergamot will compliment the bread quite nicely and is strong enough to handle the earthy sweetness of the maple syrup.

This morning, as dawn was breaking, our company and I watched a herd of 8 deer wander through the back yards. One of the mamas wasn't very friendly and kept lashing out at the others. They weren't pleased and eventually she turned around and went back to her own territory. "Our" deer are used to us talking to them and just ignore us, but the ones who weren't here all summer get spooked if we say anything. I wish that would work with the squirrels. We had three of them at the bird feeders this am, so I turned the cats loose. One squirrel almost didn't make it back to his tree and let loose with the most awful stream of invective! So Meek and Eek are camped out under the feeders and the birds just come and go, happily ignoring them. One of the goldfinches has arrived and is surprisingly gold for this time of year. Must be a male.

Now it is snowing, as has been threatened for a while. The red-bellied woodpecker is on the suet feeder, really stocking up - he's eaten about 1/4 of it. And I was wrong - he does indeed have a red head, but since I have seen his belly for 20 minutes, I can attest to a pale red wash on it. The female doesn't appear to have as much, either on her head or belly.

I will leave you with a recipe from 1889 for Tea Ice Cream - we're not as cutting edge as we thought, using tea to cook with! Written as given.

"Steep 2 ounces of the best mixed tea in 3 pints of boiling cream. In the meantime stir 3/4 pound of pulverized sugar and the yolks of 12 eggs or more until thick: add gradually to the cream, boil up once, strain through a hair seive, stirring until cold. Freeze"

I have made homemade ice cream and this is doable, if you are used to cooking and interpreting old recipes - most of my Christmas cookie recipes are like this or more confusing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

By the sea, by the sea, by Amalfi... tra la la

It is sunny today, for which I am so happy, the birds are having a wonderful time, the cats have chased away the squirrels and I am deep in pies.

I just wanted to wish all of you a blessed thanksgiving. I hope your food is excellent, your family tensions few, and that you have much to be thankful for.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Blood Orange Brewing*

Notice the painting on the side of the house, up near the eaves. This
is the ancestral home of the Knutti family - friends of our family for over 200 years.

Our birds are very brave. In spite of Ernie sitting under the feeder, they keep eating. They must have figured out he can't climb the pole. He does get scolded, however, mostly by the bluejay.

It's a typical fall day in the Northeast - gray and rainy. I wish we'd had some of this in the summer. Oh well, a good excuse to have tea! I am trying "Blood Orange" from another local teashop here in Owego - Front and Center. It really is a kitchen equipment/restaurant/cooking school, but it has a large selection of teas. In the coming weeks I am going to be interviewing the owner, Simon. Now that it is colder, they make 3 different soups every day. All their tea is loose and brewed fresh for each person, using a T-sac.

Anyway, the tea is from Metropolitan Teas, a wholesaler, so there was nothing on line about it. In the packet it didn't smell like much, but there was a whiff of orange and there were chunks of orange peel. It is a black tea, so I did my usual 3.33 minutes of boiling water steep. As it brewed there was a lovely aroma of orange wafting from the pot. The tea is a light medium amber. It is a very nicely behaved, flavored tea. You can taste the tea, which has a slight earthiness to it, with a gentle over note of the orange. Personally, I have never been really able to tell the taste of blood orange from that of an ordinary one. If you can, please tell me about the difference.

How are you coming with your Thanksgiving prep? I did a number of things today as tomorrow is busy with other things. I got the pie crusts made and in the fridge, the stuffing, 2 pre-dinner dips and one of the veggie side dishes all ready. So Wednesday I'll just do the pies and the mashed potatoes and Thursday will only be Turkey and a couple last minute things. I feel sooooo smart - I've never been this organized. Now, if only the vacuum cleaner had not died before I cleaned the house.......LOL My friends will either love me anyway or they can clean the house.

* The title of one of Laura Child's tea shop mysteries. So nice of her to put together 2 of my obsessions - tea and mystery

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Wind in the Willows [ok, Pine Trees]

I never get tired of mountains and hills.

The wind blew so hard today the bird feeders blew out of the ground. That sounds like a tall tale, but it's true. A red bellied wood pecker, which really has a mostly red head, landed on the suet feeder today. She's so much larger than the little downy it was quite a shock to see her. Until today, the blue jay has been the only larger bird still around.
We live in a heavily wooded area and sometimes, when you look over the hills, it is so unrelievedly gray, as the trees draw all their life force into their roots to survive the winter. That is why I am so glad to have the birds right outside my window, even though some of them are grayer for the winter, such as the goldfinches. I turn on as many lights as I can in good conscience to combat the winter blues and I make sure they are all the daylight kind.
Then, of course, there is a nice cuppa! No real tastings today - just an old friend, Enjoying Tea's Imperial Yunnan Black aka Imperial Gold Dianhong. It's a very pleasant , slightly spicey, slightly flowery Yunnan. I don't have to think about it - just enjoy.

I don't know if I will be doing much in the way of tea tasting over the next week. We arehaving Thanksgiving here, with friends, some of whom will be staying the weekend, so there is a lot to do. I have plans all written out - that is amazing in itself. Today I am going to make up the pie crust and the turkey is in the garage refrigerator beginning to thaw. We decided to get a small one this year and wound up with a 22 pounder. A lot of stuff can be made ahead and just reheated, so that is what I am going to do.
Did you know the First Thanksgiving probably did not have turkey? More likely fish, clams, oysters, mussels, venison, perhaps grouse. There was probably some sort of maple sap to sweeten things, corn and beans, maybe some apples and cranberries, maybe some pumpkin. A lot of the food would have been dried or smoked to preserve it for the winter.
It doesn't matter, the Indians saved our ancesters from starvation.
May we all remember all the things we have to be thankful for and let our hearts fill with gratitude and love.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tea at the Briar Patch

Cow barn in the spring in the Simmenthal.

Rats, the terrible two have discovered the bird feeders and sit on the porch steps waiting for them. Hopefully they will get tired of this and go do something else. The blue jays act as sentinels and while they haven't attacked the cats, they let everyone know if it is safe to feed or not. I moved the feeders farther from the house, hoping this will help.

I had a delicious tea this morning and a very nice chat with Carrie Tompkins, the owner of the Briar Patch , in Owego, NY. This is a small but delightful shop choc-a-block with good things to eat, taste, decorate, smell and just enjoy. Carrie has been in Owego about 3 years. She only got into tea 31/2 years ago and has already begun to blend a few teas and write a monthly article for our local paper, The Moonlighter. If you remember, I reviewed one of her teas not too long ago - Honey Lemon.

Carrie's introduction to tea was a Formosa Oolong she had at a Japanese restaurant. She found it to be so good, she wanted to learn more. She was also quite taken by the whole relaxation angle of tea and the fact it has so much less caffeine than coffee. Carrie has been making and selling beautiful candles for over 12 years and loves to experiment with blending different scents. This love of the sensual was a natural segue into the beginnings of tea blending. So far she has blended rooibus with mate, and chamomile with peppermint on her own, using European Chamomile instead of Egyptian, as she feels it has a smoother, softer edge, with more of an apple overtone. Next up is lavender with Earl Gray. I will definitely be interested in comparing that with others.

At the moment, Briar Patch carries over 50 teas and Carrie ships them around the country. She always has a big pot on the counter so you can taste the tea of the day. Today's was wonderful!
I am not a big fan of spice teas as usually the clove in them is overwhelming. However, Carrie's Cinnamon Orange Spice was really super. Very cinnamon-y and spicey, but so well balanced! The orange lightened it some and there was a definite sweetness in the brew. Although it is not an herb tea, it made me feel warm and cosy. I bought some and decided it would make a very nice holiday treat.

You can check out the Briar Patch offerings at

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Sacred" Ground

Another denizen of the Markt Platz in Bern.

I have proof the chickadees prefer pine nuts to sunflower seeds! Not that it is of the least importance. A whole bag of these expensive things languished in the freezer too long, so I put them out in the bird feeders - very popular with our crowd. The titmice can't seem to eat at the same feeder, but a crowd of chickadees or a flutter of finches seem to be able to munch quite happily together.

I have had a tummy bug, so I have not been in the mood to taste teas. Mostly I have been drinking Bigelow's Herbal Assortment. All tea bags. All okay, if not exciting. But then, I wasn't looking for excitement.

How're you doing on your Thanksgiving planning? We're just having friends over, so there isn't the tension of long standing family stuff to deal with. I have the meal all planned and except for things like fruit, which you really can't get ahead, I'm all set. I confess I am a real traditionalist for this meal. The stuffing is sacred ground! And there has to be mashed potatoes and gravy and cranberry sauce. After that, the sides can be whatever. Since our friends are bringing most of them, I am only going to make Indian Creamed Spinach with Cashews for the ones who like Indian stuff.

When I was a kid, my mother always made creamed onions, which no one ate. Finally I asked her why and she said her grandfather loved them and they were always on the table for Thanksgiving. He died in 1938. I think it was at least 1955 before I asked. Talk about tradition.

Hmm, what tea to have with the meal. Actually, it will be with dessert. We are having coconut cream pie for Himself and I can't make up my mind about the others. I am considering pecan, pumpkin, apple and chocolate. Since there will only be 6 of us, I can't really make them all. Much too oinky.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Up, Up and Away

A cute little kids' riding plane in the market square in Bern,

I am so excited! We put up the bird feeders and suet yesterday morning and by afternoon the birds had arrived - usually it takes a few days or a week before they notice and arrive. Already we have had 3 kinds of finches, chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmice, a downy woodpecker, a hairy wood pecker, and a blue jay. I am so glad I put them out side my computer window - I would much rather look at them than the gray trees. Downy and hairy wood peckers look just about alike, but the hairy is quite a bit larger; with a downy about the size of a purple finch.

This morning I had some of Bigelow's Green Tea With Peppermint. I can't say I could taste much green tea, but the mint was quite pleasant, not overwhelming as it sometimes can be. It was a tea bag and the water wasn't very hot. I was at a meeting, and this seemed safest. Another green for those afraid to try them. I'm not sure easing into them is the way to go, but for folks who only want to use green teas as an antioxidant, this is a pleasant way to do it.

Well, I see Prince William finally asked Kate to marry him, and gave her his mother's engagement ring. Even I, who avoids the news as much as possible, saw that. Guess I will go and have a cup of Lady Londonderry to celebrate, as that was Princess Diana's favorite tea. In my never humble opinion, Culinary Teas makes the best blend of this.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Keemunin the Morning.

Monday Morning

More of Ballenberg

I was going to do my Northeast thing and complain about the gray, but the sun came out, so I can't. Sigh! We set up our second Darth Vader Composter and collected abunch of twigs and pine cones for the bottom. Our first one is almost full. In the spring we will have lovely stuff for the garden.

Last night we had eleven deer in our backyard. I think 5 of them were mamas. Some of them were obviously more wild than our usual crowd, as they got spooked when I spoke to them. It was about dusk, so it was really hard to see them with their winter coat.

Time for elevenses as the British name it. I am having Culinary Teas Organic Imperial Keemun. The third grade of Keemun, behind "A" and "B". In the packet it smelled very oaky with a lot of corn silage and wine. I brewed it for about 4 minutes with boiing water. The brewed tea's aroma was more just fresh tea than anything else. At first, I thought the tea was very harsh, but then it settled into a more typical Keemun style, much like the dry scent of oak and wine. I can't say much about it. It is okay, but I think I will blend it with some better teas and see if it improves.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Lazy Tea Wife Tips

If you, like me, want to set an attractive tea table but think it's a lot of work I have some suggestions to perhaps make it a little easier.

If you are just starting to acquire tea linens, here are a couple of suggestions -

For tablecloths, white is great - you can bleach it. Or something with a lot of pattern, it hides the inevitable stains. If bleach doesn't work, Oxiclean usually does. Most grocery stores have it or most of the big box stores like Sam's, BJ's and Costco carry it. Works wonders on restoring old stained stuff as well, if you like to collect old linens. They all work best if you zip the cloths off the table as soon as you can and wash them. If your tabletop is pretty, use placemats or nothing at all, which is the easiest of all.

If you really love something that has stains that refuse to come out, either make sure that's where you put a table decoration, live with it, cut it up for something smaller, embroider over the stain, applique something over it or make a point of it by telling a story about how it got there. I have my mother's old lace tablecloth that has finally gotten too grotty to use, but I am going to take the good parts and applique them onto some pillows that are embarrassing.

If you like to iron, get cotton or linen. If you are like me, I like some polyester because I hate to iron. Although I have found that if you dry a tablecloth on its own and either hang it up carefully right away or put it back on the table, you don't need to, even linen. If you hang them outside and carefully smooth them out, you don't need to either unless you're really fussy. If you're really fussy, why are you reading this? It's for lazy people. If you are ecologically minded, buy old linens at yard sales or antique and junque shops. They'll be of good quality and softened with use. I got a beautiful handmade lace tablecloth for 25 cents at a yard sale. No stains or holes, either!

If you go to put a cloth on the table, you haven't much time, and it's wrinkled, here's a quick trick - fill a squirt bottle with hot water and very lightly mist the cloth, on the table. pull it and smooth it until the wrinkles come out and let it dry. Usually this works. If not, get out another one.

I do the same with napkins. I fold them and smooth them very carefully right out of the dryer and they are fine for the sort of entertaining I do. Most people are still hyped if you use a tablecloth and real napkins anyway. Besides, it is ecologically a good idea. Mostly I use patterned ones so if they get stained, it's not too big a deal.

I admit I do have some very nice old linen tablecloths and napkins. I use them for special things like Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I iron them carefully and I enjoy them, as they make me feel close to the people they came from, like Gramma Duffee's immense 24" square heavy linen dinner napkins. But I am lazy and I don't want to do that all the time.

Which brings me to silver. Both sterling and plate. Of which I have a goodly bunch. Forget those hours of tedious polishing. Line a plastic dish pan with aluminum foil. Boil a kettle of water. Add a cup of baking soda to the pan, pour in the boiling water, add your silver, swish it around after 10-15 seconds, repeat swishing. When it looks pretty clean, take it our, rinse well and polish with a soft cloth. It works! It looks good! It doesn't harm the silver. It doesn't add toxins to the air or your skin. Then put it in something so it doesn't get tarnished so quickly. or use it a lot. Or save yourself some work and buy something else. I like silver, so I untarnish it every now and then.

It used to be everything on a table had to match. Very nice, but unless you have beaucoup bucks or have been collecting for a while, it isn't going to happen. Besides, what we liked at 20 we may not like at 30 and positively hate at 40. So don't bother. Get what you like and can afford. Some one wise once said, if you like things, they will go together. I've found that to be true for me. Or else they don't go together so well, they're striking.

The real point is, better a cup of teabag tea in a paper cup with a friend than the very best of everything and no friend. Your real friends won't care and the others may be so happy you asked them for tea they'll never notice. Just have a good time with the best tea you can afford.

You Gotta Get Up In The Morning

Tea Blogger has gotten funny about paragraphs again - sorry

A watering trough outside the inn from yesterday. Notice it is
made from a tree trunk, with the branches serving as legs. I have
a coat rack from the same school of wood carving, Swiss Rustic, perhaps.

We welcome to the world and to our family, Ruby Sue Hagin, born Nov. 7, 2010! It's been a nice month - a family wedding and a new baby. The great ongoing-ness of life.

Breakfast Tea - I often say something I've tried has not many nuances and I would save it for breakfast, as I am not very awake then. This is not a disparagement of tea. I treasure a tea I can just let fall from numb fingers, and an even number brain, into a pot, brew it and it tastes just fine. At the other, empty end of the pot, I am alert, I hope, and ready to face the day. In the morning, nuance and careful thought are beyond me. Ritual is what I am aiming for then and some teas are just perfect for that.

One of them is Teas Etc. Irish Breakfast - see, even the name knows what its about - breakfast. You put it in your pot, you add boiling water, snooze for 4 minutes, pour it in your cup and voila! or voy-ler, 20 minutes later you may be able to really open your eyes. No muss, no fuss, no thought and there you are, awake, with a decent cup or two of tea inside you. This is a strong, hearty brew, with a good bit of malt in it. It goes well with cream and probably sugar, but I think it is a bit sweet all on its own. There is also some astringency at the end. It is obviously mostly Assam, but there may be some Kenya in there as well. Just a nice cuppa to get the brain going. I have a drawer of teas that are almost exclusively "breakfast teas", although not a lot of them have that name.

One of the joys of tea is that you have so much to choose from. First, there are the different categories of green, white, yellow, Oolong, black, pu-erh. Then there are blends. Flavored teas come in and there are, of course, the huge range of herbals. There is an even larger range of price and one can choose from an assortment of bags, sachets or loose teas, I have noticed that in the past five years, there has been an immense proliferation of new takes on tea. One example is Earl Grey. Upton's lists 14, plus a sampler. There is now vanilla, chocolate, lavender, rose, citrus, and grenadine added to Earl Grey. Some of it I can applaud, some not. I admit I have 2 of Upton's I like to blend half and half. Personally, I am not big on fruity teas nor do I like blends that have no taste of tea, but taste of something else entirely. I really prefer my pie with a cup of tea, not in it. For one who likes new things, being a tea taster is paradise, most of the time.

A new use has been discovered for tea cosies. We have a plunger type glass coffee pot. I often make coffee early in the morning and it gets cold by the time Himself arises. So I put my largest tea cosy over it and it is nice and warm for him. Tea people are sooooo clever. LOL

We really need to take time to celebrate. A lot of life is downright hard, scary, ugly and unpleasant so be joyful when you can, look for things to bring joy into your life. I am now 3 years cancer free and 37 years married, Let's boogie! Right now I am thankful for sun, bird calls, my cats winding around my feet, shadows on the lawn, good bread, warm feet, a good morning kiss. No biggies, but I am here to enjoy them. What are you thankful for?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Congrats to Giveaway Winners!

Ballenberg Museum - An old Inn and stable. This museum has
done what the Ford museum in Michigan did - they saved a lot of
old buildings and moved them to one place, so we could appreciate
them better.

Another beautiful day in the neighborhood. Today we need to set up our second composter, before the ground really freezes. It is definitely getting cold. We have named them Darth Vader, as they look exactly like his headpiece. If they start talking to us, I will get out my light sword.

Congratulations to Ian, Stephanie, Elizabeth, Alex and Marilyn, the Tea Giveaway winners. Your teas will be in the mail next week. Now that I know where the post office is, it will be a cinch to mail them. LOL

I didn't really taste any tea yesterday or today. I had 2 very reluctant teeth out yesterday and both days I have not been happy! So I have only had some favorite green tea - Boston tea Company Pineapple Paradise, or just given in and felt very sorry for myself. Hopefully I will return to real life tomorrow!

Where's the Blog?

When I posted my blog on Monday, it was all there. I wonder what happened to it? I can try to recreate it for you from my tasting notes.

The two teas I tried were White Tea from Golden Moon and Upton's ZW80, China Yin Zhen, Downy White Pekoe.

Golden Moon claims they were the first company to import white teas. White teas are fairly rare, as they are almost unprocessed and usually from the finest early pickings. This particular tea has chrysanthemums in it, which I had not noticed at first, so it isn't really a test of white tea for me, as I was planning to compare 2 plain ones. Oh well. The leaves are chopped, unusual for a white tea and there is indeed, a small dried flower in them. At first the leaves almost smelled like roses, but this aroma dissipated as it brewed to a light amber, after 2 minutes at about 180 degrees. I think the color came from the chrysanthemum, as did the flavor. It was very pleasant, but if there was an additional taste from the tea itself, I could not detect it.

The Upton's sample was quite different and more what I expected form a white tea. The leaves and buds were whole, a very pale green, overlaid with the silvery hairs of newness. There wasn't a whole lot of scent, just a bit of greenness. I brewed this for 2 minutes at 180 also, using about 2 teaspoons of leaves, as they are quite fluffy. The brewed tea also did not have much aroma. The taste was a mild, soft green nutty flavor, which lingered in my mouth. I thought I would get some more as it would be so pleasant to have at night when I want some real tea, but not much caffeine.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Showered with Flowers

Ballenberg Museum -A small chalet that was used by the cowherds in the
summer high mountain pastures. I have a small bell that my grandfather brought from Switzerland that had hung from the neck of one of his cows. All the cows, goats and sheep have bells and it is a lovely sound to hear.
I just got the nicest gift from Alexis at I put my name in for a drawing and received a beautiful silk neck pillow stuffed with tea. It smells wonderful, like a good Oolong or green tea, with a whiff of rose. It has a lovely rose and magenta silk covering and is shaped perfectly to fit my neck. Thank you, Alexis!
It's a sunny day! I am always excited to see the sun, as it is such a treasure as we move into winter. I felt a little bad about skimping on yesterday's tea, so I had some this am and came to the same conclusion - pleasant with cream, but not exciting.
Today I am going to try some more white teas. I have several bits I either bought or was given as samples, so let's see what we can try.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tuesday, Nov 9

A pleasant vista at Ballenberg Museum in Switzerland.

I was making biscotti yesterday, using a recipe from my husband's aunt, ZiZi [Auntie in Italian]. While doing it I had such fond memories of sitting in her kitchen, visiting, of having "coffee and" which meant some espresso with a dollop of anisette liquor and some cookies. I don't remember the almond biscotti so much as I remember the little round frosted oil cookies. Maybe I'll make those next. A lot of my cooking uses recipes from friends and relatives and it's a happy way to keep good memories or stir them up!

I've been noticing trees in my travels around. The latest to spark my interest has been a small grove at the bank. Most of the trees are singles, but there are two sets that have grown together. It is fascinating to trace the growth of the individuals and see where they began to touch and where they finally just grew the same bark to cover both of them. If they are ever cut down, I'd love to have a slab from where they began to grow together. We have one on our road that has a huge diameter. Since it is an oak, a slow grower, it must be pretty old, certainly past 50. It has beautiful, well defined branches.

I have not much brain today for tea - I've been sleepy since I got up! So I am having and undemanding tea - Windsor Castle, from Culinary Teas. It is an English-style blend of Darjeeling, Assam and Kenya. I am brewing it for 3.33 minutes with boiling water. Dry, the leaves smell like fresh silage, with some roasted, toasted notes thrown in. Most of the leaves are pretty small and dark, with an occasional gold one. As it brews, it just smells like fresh tea.
And that is pretty much what it is - a pleasant, unremarkable cuppa that most Brits would recognize as decent tea. And so say I. I shall dunk my biscotti in it.

Exploring with the Portugese

Examples of Swiss wood carving. The original home of the Feuz family - mine- was Brienz, on Lake Brienz, which was especially famous for this and still is today.

This morning was very glittery and silvery, with frost on everything and the sun shining. The swamp and trees past the edge of yard look mysterious behind our trees. Yesterday, our whole small herd of 2 does and 3 fawns was having a picnic on the grass.

Marco Polo was a Portuguese explorer in the 'glory' days of navigational exploration. For some reason, Mariage Freres, that wonderful French tea company, has decided to name one of their teas for him. Their shy and self-effacing description of it is"marvelous fruity and flowery tea.'
Well, what can I say? The dry leaves are a shiny black and brown and it smells deliciously of strawberry candy. There are no hints for brewing, so I did my usual 3.33/212/1 tsp thing. As it brews, there is less candy and more berry aroma. And that is what it tastes like - a pleasant berry tea with overtones of floral and vanilla. I did not care for it, but my husband loved it. I think that is because I am not big on berry/fruity teas and he loves sweet ones. So, if you are a berry loving, sweet tea person, this is right up your alley.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sweet Rosy O'Grey

Old Swiss Architecture, showing the house on the right connected to the
barn on the left. Very handy in an area of great cold and snow.

Speaking of which, we had snow yesterday, while the sun was out and it was raining. Of course, it didn't stick, but it was an interesting weather phenomenon, especially since it was only in one small area.

Earl Grey is often mixed with other flavors and there has been a lot of experimentation with it. The newest, to me, is Teas Etc.'s Rosy Earl Grey, from a lot I bought this summer. They describe it as jasmine green tea, black tea, flavors and pink roses. As you can imagine, this is a very pretty tea. It also has an almost overwhelming scent of very sharp bergamot. Oh oh, I hoped this was not what it would taste like. As it brewed, the smell softened considerably and I hoped the taste would, as well. I love Earl Grey, but you can have too much of a good thing.

The proof is always the taste and this one excelled. It was a very nicely balanced cup of rose enhanced Earl Grey that was smooth and full. I couldn't detect any jasmine in the brew. You could taste the tea base and while a bit bland, you need to remember it's the over all blend , not just the base. If the base tea is too far forward, there would be no point to the blend. For myself, I would prefer to make it a bit stronger than a level spoon full and perhaps only brew it for 3.5 minutes instead of the recommended 4. I chilled some of this and it is very good chilled, as the roses come out a little more. I didn't add either cream or sugar, so you will have to experiment with that on your own.

If you are an Oolong lover and would like to learn about them, has a lot of information on its site. Click on Wulong tea information. Oolong, Wulong and Wu Long are all the same tea.

Here is a little ditty that has been running through my head for far too long:

I eat my peas with honey,
I've done it all my life,
It makes my peas taste funny,
But it keeps them on my knife!

Friday, November 5, 2010

I Like My Tea With Honey

One of the many artisans at Ballenberg museum. She is bringing
bread "to market"

Owego, NY is supposedly the"Coolest Small Town" in America. I'm not sure who says so, but it's fun to know, as this is now my hometown. We are fortunate in having several places in town where you can order well-made hot or iced tea and 2 merchants of loose leaf tea. One of the latter is the Briar Patch, where the tea is not only loose, but blended in Owego. I bought a few samples yesterday and today I am trying one. I have one complaint, however. The shop is quite small and filled with scented things and I noticed that when I got the tea home, the bags all smelled of the shop. It is probably impossible to do anything about it, given the size constraints. The teas themselves did not seem to be affected.

This delightful tea is Honey Lemon. When I opened the sample, I was really bowled over by the scent - wonderful wildflower honey with enough lemon to keep your feet on the ground. Just an amazing aroma! The leaves are mostly black, but some look green and there are chunks of lemon peel as well. I could hardly wait. I was rewarded for my patience, such as it was, with wonderful flavor of honey and lemon with some floral overtones. The tea was really smooth and very full feeling with a slight tang from the lemon, but no bitterness, which can be a problem with lemon peel. The taste lingers just long enough to be really appreciated, but not too long.

My only problem with this tea is that as it cooled it became far too sweet for me. You sweet tea folks would probably love it.

If you want to see some fancy tea pouring, go on over to and scroll down to the second entry and click on the picture. If you want to learn to do this, I would suggest you do it outside. I know I am too much of a klutz to attempt it, but I will do what I do best - appreciate.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Local Tea!

I went out to find the post office this morning, and there it was, right where GoogleMaps said it would be. I have driven down that street several times and not seen it; mostly because I was too busy looking in the store windows or trying to find a parking space.

I decided I would do a bit of pre-Christmas shopping and also see if I could find the spatula I want. Flexible, the right size and with a slant on the end, for use in non-stick fry pans. To do so, I had to go to 2 stores that also sold tea. Now there's a hardship! They both offer small samples, so I got a few to try. I will be reviewing them soon and also doing an interview with one of the shop owners, who blends her own tea and writes a tea column for our very local monthly paper.

So, got the stamps, one Christmas present, a bit of tea, but no spatuala. I found the right shape and flexibility, but it would only be usable in a giant's frying pan. Sigh, I have been looking soooo long and I am really afraid the one I have is going to die on me. It is only about 30 years old.

Tea Mystery

Ballenberg Museum
The interior of a small typical Swiss mountain home, about 150 years ago. The stove on the right would keep the whole house warm. Usually these homes were quite small, as many of ours were.
A gray, misty, rainy day, good for tea. I have some Nilgiri Chamraj Oolong from the Silver Leaf Tea Company. The leaves are very long, twisted, and dark. Their dry scent is perhaps pine and citrus? I honestly can't really tell, but that is the closest I can come.
I brewed this up for about 1.5 minutes for the first infusion and 2 for the second. There are a lot of stems in the tea and it is much darker than Oolongs generally are. The scent has shifted to a balsam. I can't describe how this tea tastes. Brown, with maybe traces of nuttiness.
I did better with the second infusion as it was clearly nutty, with some sort of candy edge to it, but not really sweet. I think I would have to put it in the just okay column for now, but I will come back to it at a later time and see how we do.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Up in the Mountains.

Pretty spring flowers.

Which is my tea for today certainly is, very floral. It is Adagio's Ali Shan and comes from the highest peaks of Taiwan. In the can it smells like a flower laden heaven, it is so sweet, not sugar sweet, but that of nectar. The tea is almost green, tightly wrapped in little balls. I rinsed it with boiling water, waited a minute and then added the water and infused it for 1.5 minutes. The resulting brew was a soft gold, with the same wonderful aroma, slightly muted. The tea feels thick and full with a great orchid floral taste, grounded with a vegetal edge.

The second infusion was 2 minutes and had more of a vegetal character, but not green - more in the neighborhood of squash. It remained thick tasting and as it cooled, more of the floral character came out.

Since I was playing around with another tea, I did a third infusion of boiling water. The color was nearly the same gold and the more floral aroma had returned. The taste was weaker and I would say the floral edged out the vegetal by a good bit. Altogether a really tasty interesting tea.

The tea leaves, which started out less than a quarter inch in diameter, unfurled to be quite large. One was 5 inches long! They were pretty green when I finished and you could see where the bugs had chewed the edges, which forces the plant to produce an enzyme that produces good flavor, in addition to the tea master's art in production.

My second tea was an Oolong from Nilgiri, but you have to wait until tomorrow for the review.

The Tea Giveaway will close Sat. Nov 6 at 2 am. Just in time for us all to turn our clocks back and get 1 hour less sleep.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vietnamese Tea Table

Still in Ballenberg museum. We only visited the buildings from
the Kanton Bern, where my family came from, and it took most of
a day. That was about 1/8 of the total structures and it felt like we only skimmed the surface.

Today is a beautiful day, with lots of sunshine, although it got off to a grim gray start. We went for a walk and the sideshow of Bert and Ernie followed along, racing up and down trees, playing "kill your brother" and finally, being carried, as befits a prince. We are such suckers.

I have generally liked Simpson and Vail teas. I think they were the second merchant, after Upton's, that I bought tea from. One of the things i have liked about them is their willingness to try teas from countries that are just getting into the better tea market, like Bolivia and Vietnam.
Today's tea comes from Vietnam and is simply called Vietnam Black. I think I told you a while back about an article I read about Vietnamese tea growers. Most are very small, sometimes just a backyard. Often the leaves are processed at home, using an old industrial clothes drier. Sometimes there are cooperatives that process the tea. This is all done primarily in the north, where the mountains are.

I like the service I get from this company and I especially like the fact that the bags for the tea are bio-degradeable. I can use them as brown matter in my compost pile.

Dry, the leaves are smallish and twisted, definitely black. They smell faintly medicinal. As they brew, they give up an amber liquid that smells somewhat malty, a little sweet. I followed S&V's recommendation of 3 minutes with boiling water. They also said this is a tea that would blend well with others. Kind of like the good kid in kindergarten. This something of a gentle tea, having both malty and nutty notes. I think I can detect a little spice and maybe a high note of citrus here and there. It's not really exceptional, but it is pleasant and I could see how it would easily blend with other black teas.

Don't forget the tea giveaway mentioned yesterday.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Same barn, different view.

I misled you yesterday. When the tea cooled the second infusion was every bit as good as the first cup. Hot, it was blah, cool it was not.

So, how was your Halloween? "Rescue " some good candy from your kids? We were told we'd have less than ten but we had 18. Our whole side of the road is retired pastors and the development across from us is mostly retired too, so there aren't a lot of kids to show up. The best costume was a banana and a Sylvester "puddy tat". Sadly, the kid didn't know Tweetie's song about him.

**I have a super abundance of tea. Therefore I am going to do a Give Away. The first 5 people from the USA who leave a comment will receive a bundle of tea in the mail. Please tell me if there are some you really hate and I won't send those. Most of the teas will be black, with some green and some flavored.**

Today's tea is from Kenya. A lot of tea comes from Kenya and most of it winds up in teabags or some nondescript blend. Several years ago there were some excellent full-leaf teas appearing and then, due to a number of people factors, it was hard to find good Kenya tea. However, in the past 18 months, most of the teas I have had from there have been excellent. This looks to be one of them. Again, I have raided my Upton's stash to bring you their TK30 Bold Leaf Superior Golden Kenya TGFOP [Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe]. The smell is exquisite - tobacco, floral and a sharp note of perhaps citrus. The leaves are about medium size, with 1/3-1/2 being gold tips.

I brewed it for 4 minutes with boiling water and the aroma just continued, only with that "fresh wash on the line" scent on the edges, and more citrus. It is a surprisingly light golden brown. The citrus really comes out in the flavor, which is medium light and sweet, but not at all sugary. There seems to be a strong component of berry present also. Altogether a very good tea. I would use for afternoons, or for people new to "real" tea or a tea party, as it has a special taste without being so "out there" that few people would enjoy it.