Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Scones Of My Heart

I think I made the best scones of my life today.  Lime, ginger, coconut.  I'll give you the regular recipe first and then what I did.  The original is from Sacramental Magic in a Small-town Cafe by Brother Peter Reinhart

Sal's Scones

Set your oven for 350 degrees

Mix the following together:

3 3/4 cups flour (the recipe calls for 3 cups, which is cake batter, this works)
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 cup currants

Melt 1/2 pound butter - 2 sticks or 1 stick and 1/2 cup mild oil

Mix the butter with
 1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup lemon juice from the lemon you zested
 Stir into the dry ingredients quickly and pat out into a big circle about 2 inches high.  Mark it for 12 scones or
pat it out and cut into circles.

Bake for about 25 minutes  You can beat up one egg and brush it on the top if you wish.

These always come out really well, no matter what I add.

My changes.  I used the zest and juice from 3 limes, about 1/4 more sugar, about 1 cup of coconut and 1 of dried pineapple, instead of currants.  I mixed the zest, coconut and pineapple in with the dry.  I use freeze dried buttermilk, which also goes in the dry and then water for the liquid.  I put the lime juice in the measuring cup first and added enough water to make 1 1/4 cups.  The extra sugar was to compensate for unsweetened coconut and the extra tartness of the lime.

These are so exceptional, I had to share them.  Next time, I may use coconut milk for the liquid, still with the powdered buttermilk.  Last time I made dried fig and orange, which my husband thought were to die for.

In case you can't tell, I like to experiment.  They are going very nicely with some Yunnan Special Grade from Upton's.

Another german river town

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

More Wineing

I love ice wine.  One of our local vineyards does a lovely one that is even affordable if you buy it at the vineyard.  I got a number of wine infused teas from SBS Tea and today I am having Ice Wine sachets.  This is a black tea blended with some white with added Ontario (Canada) Ice Wine, and freeze dried grapes.  The dry scent is faint.  The leaves are large and I can discern some grapes in the mix.  The sachet is one of those big pyramid ones and it fills right up as the tea brews for 3 minutes with water just off the boil.

The liquor is a very dark brown with a warm sweet aroma that reminds me of good grape candy.  The taste seems to be more grapey than winey and comes with a bit of an earth tone at the end.  I liked it, but it would not be a favorite.  I like more wine and less grape. 

Ice wine is very sweet and generally expensive, as it not only requires extra work, but is a real gamble.  You have to leave the grapes on the vine until they begin to wither, which pushes up the sugar content and then they have to freeze on the vine.  Iffy, at best and not something that occurs every year.  All farming, whether it is wine or tea, is a huge gamble and subject to Mother Nature.

The goldfinches are beginning to turn yellow again,  which makes for a cheerful sight.  They also sing very sweetly.  I think I heard a meadowlark yesterday, so the birds are thinking it is Spring.  I hope we don't get one of those really awful March blizzards.

A closeup of the tower in yesterday's blog.

Monday, February 27, 2012

First Prize For Me

The wind is doing its howly thing again, so it is another excuse for tea.  You have to take them where you find them, right?  I think a chai would be perfect for today, with it's sweet warm spices.  I just happen to have some of Yogic Chai's Original Masala Chai, which won first prize at the 2011 North American Tea Championship.  Yogic chai makes nothing but chai, from all the sorts of tea, including kombucha and from a number of herbals as well.

This one is made from all organics - Assam tea, green cardamom, cinnamon, clove and ginger.  I made it with boiling water, steeping it for 5 minutes.  I added cream and sugar as that is the traditional way of serving it.  It is an excellent mixture, with the spices very well blended, although sometimes one and then another would come to the fore.  The cloves behaved themselves and let the others go first, in stead of shouting "taste me, taste me!"  I appreciate this.  This is a mild chai and I would prefer one a bit spicier, but that is just personal taste.  I think I also prefer white cardamom, whcih gives a hint of lemon.    Whatever, it is a very pleasant warmth on a cold, blustery day.

There are 2 little downy woodpeckers on the suet and neither is pleased that the other is there.  But they are eating and no longer fighting, so I guess all is well.  Our squirrels are back!  Oh yeah, they are back and at the bird feeders to make up for lost time.  They are annoying, but they are also funny and cute, so I am glad they are here.  After the tornado and the noisy clean up, they diappeared.

Another German river town.  The big tower in the left center was used both as a lookout and as a wine storage facility until it coud be loaded on the river barges.

This is an example of the many grape fields on the Rhine, which would be converted to wine and stored in the tower above.  It is still a great wine making area.  Obviously, there is a lot of hand work involved, as the steep slopes would preclude the use of much mechanization.  This is also true of many of the wine producing areas in NY's FingerLakes region, where I live.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Three To Get Ready and Four To Go

A perfect day for tea!  The wind has been screaming and cursing all night and all day.  It's been snowing off and on, usually not too hard, but we did have a 15 minute white-out.  That is when you cannot see more than a foot or so in any direction, if you're lucky and the entire world is white.  So, it is a good time to be inside and drinking "the cup that cheers..."

I am again comparing two teas I got in a swap.  They are both teabags, both individually wrapped, both English Breakfast.  The first is from Ahmad Tea, which I brewed for 3 minutes, per instructions.  Generally I only do teabags for 2 minutes, because the tea is so fine.  It was very dark and malty smelling - Aha, Assam.  Needless to say, it was quite strong, but very smooth.  It was straightforwardly an Assam, for sure and had no nuances, but this is breakfast tea and for those of us who are morning challanged, it is just fine.  Needless to say, it was good with milk in it.

The second was Twinings, also a 3 minute brew, and was somewhat reddish, although equally dark as Ahmads.  It smelled like birch bark or birch beer, so I suspect it was a blend of teas, surely some Keemun in there.  It had a bit of a peppery taste with a hint of malt.  It was a bit astringent, as well, but not nasty.

Twinings had more going on in terms of nuance, but both were tasty and would certainly go well on a morning when you can't face brewing a pot.  My first choice remains PG Tips, however.

I have had my first French macaroon, at the food concession of an indoor flea market, no less.  I now see why there is so much fuss over them.  Really excellent treat. Yesterday I found a cookbook for them for only $3, so I am going to try my hand at making some of my own.

Just a small village on the Rhine.  It was so pleasant to go sailing down it, seeing villages and castles my ancestors would have seen when they left the area in 1710, although I think this was probably easier travel.  Then, too, I wasn't leaving my home to sail for months and months to a wilderness, knowing I probably would never be back.

Friday, February 24, 2012

One For The Money, Two For The Show

I received many tea bags in my latest tea swap and some were the same variety, so I thought I would do some comparisons.  Today's pair is Darjeeling, one by Ahmad Teas, the other by Teekanne, a German company.  Both were nicely wrapped in individual packets, both were a pretty standard teabag, both had directions to use boiling water and brew for 3 minutes.  So I did.

The Ahmad Darjeeling, as with most teabags, had no real scent until it was brewing for a bit and then it smelled like biscuits or baked squash.  When the three minutes were up I started sipping.  The tea did taste like baked or roasted veggies.  It also tasted a bit like toast.  However, it also had a harsh, astringent side, which really over rode the other, more gentle flavors.  They may have been gentle, but I didn't find them particularly like most Darjeelings.

Teekanne Tea's Darjeeling also smelled like something baked, once it was brewing, in this case, sugar cookies.  It was a much darker amber.  The taste was a real mix of wine, roasted veggies and some nuttiness,  It was smooth going down and had a pleasant residual taste.  By comparison, it wins hands down. 

Tomorrow I am going to do and English Breakfast comparison.  I find doing these, either with teabags or loose tea, really shows up the characteristics of particular teas and can help one decide which tea  is really  preferred.

More German church.  I loved the organs and the painted ceilings.  After WWII there was a lot of restoration done, removing years of paint and other things, to reveal original colors and in some cases, murals and other artwork.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wining About Tea

My blogger has been non-functional for several days, but is now working - hooray!!!

I have really got to stop saying I don’t like certain kinds of tea. As soon as I do, up pops a type I do like and then I have to retract and be embarrassed and, well, really, I ought to just not make pronouncements. Sadly, that will probably not happen and I will continue to get in trouble.

I have often said I don’t generally like flavored teas, but then I make exceptions for Earl Grey, Jasmine, Rose-Kissed Jasmine, Lady Londonderry, and oh the sad list goes on and on. And I do like the whole gamut of wine teas. SBS Teas has a list of about 7 and I just got a bunch of them to try. They even have a black one, which is unusual. I am having it today, Assam Cabernet. It smells like the many wineries I have happily whiled away a day in, tasting this wine and that. A very happy association. Being mixed with Assam tea, it is a good bit sturdier than those mixed with the Oolongs, greens and whites. It also has cinnamon and licorice root in it. Hmmm, is that a good thing?

When I smelled these attractive dark leaves, it certainly smelled just fine. I brewed it with “furiously” boiling water for 3.5 minutes. At first I could smell the cinnamon and was put off by it, but by the time I was drinking it, that had disappeared into a very pleasant winey whole that I really like. Personally, I will use larger spoonfuls and a bit longer brew time next time, as this was not quite adequate, but I think the potential is there for a top-notch wine flavored tea. As it cooled, however, the cinnamon came out and I think this would be a better tea without it. Just the wine, please. Now if one could only find no calorie chocolate as good, we’d have a party.

I used a handy little gadget to measure the tea, cunningly called a “Loose Tea Measure” from SBS Teas. It is a sliding measuring spoon and measures out 1-5 cups of tea from weak to strong. It seems to work well and it’s a no-brainer and who among us doesn’t need another tea gadget. It was only $2.50, I believe.  SBS was also kind enough to send some tea candies, some tea samples and some cute little one cup make your own tea bags - thank you!  I really appreciate companies that do that, and sometimes I get the teas I'm sampling this way.  Lupicia Tea send out a short monthly newsletter, with a sample attached.  All very much appreciated.

Ah, mountains.  I've just been reading The Eiger Obsession, about climbing that mountain.  Not for me, I think I will just admire from afar.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Radishes For Tea

I have made a tea sandwich discovery.  I have seen recipes for radish sandwiches but never tried them.  Today I had a bunch of radishes needing attention, so I decided to make some.  What an eye-opener.  The bread and butter tone down the sharpness of the radishes and it all makes a lovely crunchy sandwich with just a small hint of bite, and these were large, i.e. hot, radishes.  Guess I know one thing on the tea table this summer.

I am finally catching up on tasting some of the teas I got through the monthly tea tasters from Steepster Select on This is a really nice program and much less expensive than many monthly tea clubs, since it is only $19 and you get quite large samples.  Today's is Shade Grown Tie Guan Yin from the Norbu Tea company.  This is an Oolong which hails from the Anhui Province of China.  It is also called "Iron Goddess of Mercy Tea".  Growing tea in the shade tends to concentrate both chlorophyll and taste in the leaves.  It is very, very, very floral smelling in it's dry state, as well as being almost so many verys green.  It is rolled in tight little balls and the first thing I did was rinse it with almost boiling water.  This relaxes the leaves and prepares them to unfurl.  And unfurl they did, into great long leaves, some about 3" long..

The liquor is a very soft pale yellow green and the aroma, while still strong, has softened a bit and smells like a cross between magnolias and mock orange, sweet, heady stuff, almost too much.  This is the taste as well - very floral, almost meaty in feel and just about too much to drink on its own, as the floral component was so strong.  I diluted it a bit with more hot water and used it as an excuse to have a cookie with it and then it was fine.  Next time I'll use a bit less tea.

A pleasant street in a small Rhineland village.  Most of these houses are from the 1600's and have been restored.  Then tourists like me can come along and take lots of pictures!  lol.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Maple, My Sweet

Oh no! I ran out of maple syrup! Good thing we were going to the town where our friends, the Bakers have their maple shop.  They have won about a gazillion awards for the quality of their syrup and other maple products they make.  I got a half gallon. It’s a lot, but it will last a year and when I buy this much then I feel I can use it in recipes. While I was checking out all their offerings, I spotted some maple herbal tea. Fortunately, they had samples all nicely packaged up, so I got one. I am doing this for you dear fellow tea journeymen, as I am sure it will be really sweet.

Yes this is sweet, but not nearly as sweet as I thought it would be. The sweetness is offset by the rooibos base and by the addition of calendula and chamomile. If you like maple, this would be something you’d probably like. I brewed it with boiling water for 5 minutes and I thought that was about right. If you don’t need a wake-up in the morning, I could easily see this as a pleasant breakfast experience. If you can’t get to our regional Maple Weekend, you can purchase the tea from  You can also order lots of other maple products and pancake mixes.

It’s so odd, I love sweet things and love maple sugar that comes in those little leaf-shaped “candies”, but I don’t like sugar in either coffee or tea, although I do make an exception for espresso and put a half teaspoon in it, if there is no anisette or lemon peel. Maple sugar can only be eaten in very small quantities, it is just too sweet.  We used to have it poured over clean snow - definitely yumm-o.  Did you know it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup?  No wonder it is so expensive. The sugar bush people don’t expect this to be a good year, with no snow and such warm weather, although I have seen some lines out.

It is time to start my tomato seeds. First thing tomorrow I have to go get seed starting soil and some basil seeds, as well. This year I am going to try to cross my favorite tomatoes, whose seed I have saved for 30 years, with some really prolific cherry tomatoes and see if I can breed mine to produce more. I’ve already bred them for size and flavor and feel quite spiffy about it.  I have some herb seeds I will plant for adding to tea or just having on their own.

Through the Tea Reaview Blog Tea Swap I received some teas from Croatia, as well as some thyme my swap partner drinks for tea.  I hadn't thought about using thyme this way, so I am eager to try it - I'll let you know how it is.

One of the many German castles overlooking the Rhine river, now restored as a guest house.  Can you imagine having tea on the terrace there?  Beautiful!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Grandpa Rocks

Today was "Turn a sow's ear into a silk purse day" in my refrigerator or kitchen cupboards and yielded bread pudding with strawberry sauce, chicken rice casserole with spinach, cheese, peppers,  and water chestnuts, chicken salad, roast pork with winter veggies, curried cauliflower, and oatmeal cookies.   Now I can almost find things in the fridge.

After that marathon, I really needed some tea!  Phoenix Tea Shop to the rescue with Grandpa's Anytime Tea.  This tea comes from a Kenyan farmer's co-perative and the Grandpa in question is a man who suffered for many years for workers' rights.  He is still tea farming along with his family, although he has passed the age of 100.

Grandpa's tea is tiny, tiny bits of CTC treated tea, finer than many coffee grains.  It has a very woodsy aroma, like the earthy wetness aroma of an early Spring woodland.  Phoenix recommends brewing this 1-2 minutes with boiling water and I would certainly agree and be careful to use just a level teaspoon per cup  - this is strong stuff.  It tastes as woodsy/earthy as it smells and is a real wake-me-up brew, very well suited for breakfast or for afternoon slumps.

A beautifully carved old German pulpit - we visited a lot of churches.  This is probably from the 1400-1500's.

It is still light out at 5:30 and the sun is once again shiningg into my kitchen!  I am so glad the worst of darkness is behind us.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Who Has Seen The Wind?

It's another perfect day for tea while I watch the snow devils kicked up by the wind, as it howls and moans and keens its way across the long length of our back yards and on across the wide 50 acre pasture.  It's been quietly snowing all day, but there isn't any more than 3 inches, if you can find a place it's neither piled high nor scoured away by the wind. 

I have always loved the wind.  I love to see it ripple through long grass and set the trees and clouds flying against the sky.  I love its sounds, from the barest murmur to raging tempos.  I love to open my windows to hear it and feel it move across me as I go to sleep.  There is nothing quite like being snug in a warm bed while a storm rages.

You would think I would have a strong, sturdy tea for such a day, but no, I am having Jasmine Pearl Oolong from the puriTea.  I won't say a lot about it, because I have reviewed it before.  However, it is still wonderful, sharing the top spot with another from Life in Teacup.  Lovely jasmine, sweet and floral.  Lovely little green and white pearls, like miniature balls of yarn, unfolding in my pot.

It is worth having some glass teapots so you can watch your tea unfold or dance around or hop up and down as it brews.  More action seems to happen with greens and Oolongs, but some of the tightly twisted black teas are fun to watch, also.  This is often called "the agony of the leaves", but I rather think they are enjoying themselves, stretching out to do their job of enriching our day.

A.C. Cargill wrote an article recently at the English Tea Shop blog about tea and the Scottish games.  I was reminded that I haven't been to any for too long, so I am marking my calendar to go with my cousins to the ones on Labor Day weekend near Albany, NY.  The last time we went, it rained and it was mud to our ankles.  Not much fun, so we listened to some rousing bands, drank beer and ate 5 different kinds of french fries. (Ye gods!) There was only 1 clan tent still braving the elements and we were cheered to see their tartan is uglier than ours.  One or two at a time, ours - the MacDuffee - isn't so bad, but en masse, the weird reddish orange or orangeish red can be quite an eyeful.  This time I shall look for some good Scottish tea and biscuits and hope for harp players.

A poem I loved as a child, perfect for today:

By Christina Rossetti 1830–1894
Who Has Seen the Wind?

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

The small Swiss town of Darstetten, in Kanton Bern.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Have I Got News For You

For you Kombucha fans who live in the Portland, Oregon area, Lion Heart Kombucha has opened  small "brew pubs" in 2 locations in Northwest Portland.  They brew about 160 gallons of this fermented tea each week.  They have no desire to grow larger, as they want to maintain quality and a locovar profile as much as possible.  One of my friends brews kombucha and I must say, I can't get past looking at it.  Perhaps if I had some already tidied up...

The Third Annual North American Tea Conference is scheduled for September in Ontario Falls, Canada.  It is really for those tea folks who are in business.  If you are interested, contact either the Us Tea Association or the Tea Association of Canada for more information.

The English Tea Store blog has an excellent article on dealing with the special requirements of vegetarians and vegans you may have invited to a tea.  As of today, it is about the third or fourth article down.  I found it an excellent help.

Oregon is again in the news, this time in Eugene, where J-Tea can be found.  They just sponsored a tea "time capsule" event.  They sold jars of tea ranging from very small to over a pound, sealed with specially designed "year of the dragon" signed and dated seals so folks could then age their own tea.  At the event, there were tastings of 20 year aged Oolongs.  They may have some left.  You can check at

Japan has done a 3 year study of nearly 14,000 aging adults and their tea drinking habits.  They were careful to factor in things like diet, exercise and other life style choices and discovered that those who drank 3 or more cups of tea remained more agile and more independent, the more tea, the better.

On the World Tea Expo website, there was good news about black tea drinking and lower blood pressure.  It was not a great deal, but every little bit helps, right?

Meanwhile, the University if Illinois at Urbana has been doing laboratory research with Yerba Mate and has found it kills colon cancer cells.  I have heard from several sources that green tea does the same to prostate cancer cells.

So, fellow tea-drinkers, drink up!  Tea is good for you and besides, it tastes good and warms you inside and out, when it's not cooling you off - such a bargain!

The World Tea Expo website also has some statistics  that say tea drinking has doubled in the last few years, to the tune of  several billion dollars.  The US is sixth in consumption, behind the traditional tea drinking nations of China, India, Russia, Turkey and Japan.  Per capita, however, Ireland is still in the lead, with each person drinking over 2 1/2  pounds of tea each year.

After all that, I did do a bit of tea tasting today.  I am trying to use up my oldest samples, so I can go on to the new!  Today's is Vanilla Pomegranate from Rooibos Suite .  The black tea was interesting looking with flower petals and pieces of dried lemon and pomegranate.  The actual tea leaves were all black, fairly large and twisted.  It had a pleasant vanilla/lemon scent.  I brewed it for about 5 minutes with boiling water.  The brew was a light amber color and smelled of both fruit and vanilla.

This was a pleasant mild tea that basically was just what it said it was.  No particular nuances, nothing spectacular, but a pleasant drink with my fig and pecan scones.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Another Good Reason to Drink Tea

The lichens on the trees along the dirt road are "blooming".  A beautiful golden apricot over the very ordinary gray green that these lichens usually are.  They are especially beautiful in the sun, but they certainly light up a dull day.  If only it were the beginning of April and not February.  This warmish weather, while welcome, has my system all out of sync.  It also means we will be inundated with bugs this summer unless we get some good long freezing weather to kill them.

However, in honor of the lichens' glorious color, I am having Apricot Black Tea from Lupicia Teas, a Japanese company.  The name always makes me think it should be Italian.  The neat black leaves and marigold petals smell pleasantly of apricot, with a touch of sharpness.  I brewed it longer than recommended - 4 minutes in stead of 3. Even so, the resulting brew smelled wonderfully of apricots, with a tiny, almost medicinal twist.  I don't know if that is the marigolds or a different variety of apricot from what we may be used to, or just a quirk.

Oh my, such a nice tea.  It tastes wonderfully apricot-y, sweet and rich.  For once, I will not complain about not being able to taste the tea itself, but just enjoy this lovely flavor.  For one thing, there is no discernible chemical taste, which really turns me off, big time.  For another, this is a very clearly defined one fruit - apricot.  I don't have to try and dissect what flavor it really is.  It is just itself and very good that is.

I also made some scones today from a recipe I really like, although I needed to make a correction.  It is from "Sacramental Magic in a Small Town Cafe" by Brother Peter Reinhart, copyright 1994.  The recipe calls for 3 cups of flour, which produces something like cake batter.  I use 3 and3/4 and it works just fine.  I would give you the recipe, but it is somewhat lengthy and I am lazy today.  It works very well, and produces 12 excellent scones, no matter what I've added to it.  Actually, while the list of ingredients is a bit lengthy, you just put all the dry together, add all the wet all at once, stir it around, and voila! scones ready to bake and eat, yum, yum.

This looks like a lovely long walk to me, on and on to the mountain tops.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Banana In My Tea

Today can't decide if it should be sunny or cloudy.  Sadly, I think the clouds are winning.  However, I have the perfect antidote - tea!  Mine is from Upton's, their T151, Formosa Black Keemun.  I'll bet those Anhui farmers don't approve as they consider theirs to be the only authentic one.  The smallish dark leaves of this Keemun smell like - you'll never guess - bananas!  I had to sniff several times to make sure, but there it was.  Very strange.  However, as it brewed for 5 minutes with boiling water, it shifted very sharply away from fruit and down into very very darkly earthy.  None of this is the Keemun I am used to.

Howsomever, by the time it hit my cup it was very pleasant, still earthy, but moderately so, with well-rounded edges that finished off with a nice, old oaken barrel edge.  The entire experience was definitely new to me, with none of the wineiness or slight smokey character that generally denotes a Keemun.  Tea is so wonderfully itself, always ready to surprise and delight.

I got a funny cartoon in the mail.  A bunch of socks were in group therapy for lost socks.  Well, I need one for lost glue.  I have bought 3 things of Gorilla Glue in a year and had to go buy another one today.  This, after a great deal of effort to put tool and fix it things in ONE and only one place.  That has nothing to do with tea, as you might imagine.  It may one of these days, as I have far too much of it and I need to do another clear out.  Always put to good use for compost or helping clover seeds take hold in the lawn.

The potted ginger root report:  for several days there has been a bump on the top of the soil and today the first small green shoot has appeared.  Hooray!  Lots of nice ginger later this year for tea and goodies.

A very typical Swiss chalet.  This is probably one of the older ones, made from wood.  The new ones are made from concrete made to look like wood, because of the fear of fire in the mountains.  There aren't a lot of bodies of water available for fires.