Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas


I am content - another new snow, new books, new teapot, new tea for Christmas - what more could I ask for?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Greetings

Yes indeed, snow!  It is still snowing and it is lovely.  Hopefully, we can now save mud season for its rightful place in April.

Remember when I told you I planted ginger?  I just harvested my first piece.  It's on the small side, but it is definintely ginger.  I feel so smart.  I will put it in this afternoon's tea to celebrate.  The narcissus I planted are blooming and filling the house with their powerful aroma and the first bulb in my mixed pot of leftover bulbs has broken the surface.  Two of the orchids are putting out flower scapes, althought it will be a month or more before they bloom.  I do love flowers in the winter.

I am going to take a break until after New Year.  But I am going to leave you with this message, which was our Christmas letter this year.

There’s an old Christmas hymn “There’s a Song in the Air” that contains the words “The star rains it’s fire while the beautiful sing, for the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King.” Having seen meteor showers, one of the true wonders of the universe, I can only imagine what that star ( or stars) would have looked like. It is like fire raining from the sky, beautiful, awe-inspiring, even humbling. For those people long ago, it was surely frightening.

Christmas is beautiful too. Not in things, but in our hearts, where true beauty lives. It is a chance for us to once again put aside the glitz and open our hearts to wonder, to real beauty, to awe, to things beyond ourselves.

Advent, the season of preparation in the Christian church world wide, is 4 weeks of anticipation and expectation. The first week celebrates Hope, for all people everywhere. The second is Peace, which we all hope for. The third is my favorite - Joy. C.S. Lewis called it “That joy without which the universe would not exist” Joy is the under girding of everything and only comes from God. The last is Love. Love that brought a helpless infant to Bethlehem, love that went to a cross, love that rose to rule the universe, love for each of us. Love between us and among us. Love enduring.

Big thoughts. Hard to fit them into our humble lives, but let there be Hope, Peace, Joy and Love in your heart today and every day of your life. May this Christmas be the most wonderful you have ever had.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Taking Tea With Cookies

Actually, I'm baking cookies with tea.  The tea is going in me this time, as will the cookies at some point.  It just seemed a nice accompaniment.  It is Twining's Christmas Tea, a pleasant smelling black tea with cinnamon and cloves.  The cookies are an old Swedish recipe with hard boiled egg yolks, so they are a delicate yellow.  They smell good together.  This is the last batch of cookies - I am tired of making them.  I'm not a fiddly person to begin with and cookie making just isn't quite the fun it used to be - I'd rather make cakes.  Which I am, Julia Child's Pound Cake.  This time I flavored it with rose water and I'll serve it with some raspberry sauce I made the other day.

Back to the tea. I usually shy away from tea with cloves in, as that is so overwhelming I'm not interested.  But, I got it free, so why not?  It smalls very nice - well balanced among the flavors.  It is a dark tea, but not super sturdy, overly heavy or overly seasoned.  The tea, cinnamon and clove are nicely balanced and almost, but not quite, delicate.  It really is very nice with the sweet, gentle lemon in the sugar cookies.  It also goes very nicely with the biscotti my lovely sister-in-law made for us.

Oh joy, Oh loveliness, oh, oh, oh, it's snowing.  Hooray.  I so hope it sticks and covers up the muck we are surrounded by - there is standing water all over my yard!  Phoo.  Just watching it fall and having tea provides me with a large shot of the cosies.  Add to that a book to read and 4 furry lap warmers and I am happy.  I don't want a blizzard, well, I do, but that is selfish.

Don't get so crazy with the Christmas things that you forget to have a cup of tea and appreciate the season.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Tea and Toast and Critters

Toast and tea.  Is there anything more satisfying than this cosy pair for a gloomy afternoon?  Especially with a bit of honey or some cinnamon sugar.  Or perhaps you are more of a marmalade or jam fan.  It really doesn't matter, toast goes with everything.  One should ideally have a cosy fire in the grate, but those of us who are grateless can just go and turn on the Christmas tree.

Then, of course, the question becomes - which tea?  With a plain toast and butter, perhapps a nice flowery Oolong would do the trick.  But I am inclined to Tea Forte's Black Currant.  For me, this is the only One I have found that doesn't carry the "odour de cat spray".  With jam or marmalade I would go for something more plain such as my bloved Yunnans or Keemuns.  Tea raises the humble toast to new heights.

We are having quite the aerial ballet this morning as the chickadees, nuthatches and tufted titmice come to the feeders and then zip away to nibble on their seeds.  They all loop and undulate in their flight, so it is quite a show. The hairy and owny woodpeckers are announcing their arrival with loud chirps and the squirrels are sitting upright on the lawn, scolding me to hustles out there with their treats.          

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sure And It's A Fine Tea

It has been very cold at night and we can walk across the yard without squishing.  However, the steps are another story as they accumulate ice from all the moisture in the air.  Lovely weather for a cup of tea.

I was a good little housekeeper and did some cupboard cleaning.  I discovered all this tea I had put away for "later" use.  One of my discoveries was a tin of Twinings Irish Breakfast.  If you don't know, teas that are labeled "Breakfast" tend to be pretty straightforward and strong, able to take on milk and sugar with aplomb.  This one is no exception.  It is a fine CTC type, looking like little coffee grains.  I brewed it with boiling water for 3.5 minutes and was rewarded with a nice strong cup of tea, perfect for morning awakenings.  There's not a lot to say about it, but it's a good ordinary cup.

I was most distressed to learn that next year's World Tea East will be held in Atlanta.  Distressed for me, that is, as I won't be able to go.  They are linking up with another show  and will probably reach more people.  You Southerners should make sure you go, it's well worth it and fun, besides.

See that white stuff on the mountains - that's snow.  I am hoping we'll have some of that very soon.  At least a foot, although it doesn't have to come all at once, just soon, right now, preferably.  More reasons for tea drinking.

I have been much entertained by our squirrel population.  I have a feeding station for them and ground feeding birds.  There is one squirrel who is so busy making sure that no one else gets to the food that he forgets to eat.  Gluttony has its own punishment!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Teas and Memories

I made a cake for a party and as I was putting away a dollop of left over frosting, I suddenly had a childhood memory of my mother always using that leftover bit to make graham cracker sandwiches.  My younger cousins remember them with saltines and frosting as well.  I'm not sure which was better, the frosting sandwiches or the frosted cake.  I guess it is the time of year for special memories.

One of the Christmas ones I cherish was the opening of "the orange store" after Thanksgiving.  Citrus fruits of every kind, plus some holly and mistletoe were all they carried.  It was so enchanting to see huge stocking stuffer oranges, lemons and limes, red grapefruit and best of all, the tiny kumquats, which I always begged to get.  My grandmother would indulge me and buy one sprig with 3-4 fruit on them.  One day, the dog started to eat one - it was hilarious, because he really didn't know whether to eat it or spit it out, so he kept chewing, with the strangest look on his face.  He was sure this was a trick.  We finally gave him a treat and he was a happier pup.

Today I thought I would try one of the Christmas teas from Lupicia, Caramel and Rum.  It came in a quite roomy tea bag and the tea was fairly large cut.  I brewed it with boiling water for 2.5 minutes.  This was not enough time and the next time I try it, I will use at least 3 minutes or more.  It gave off a lovely sweet aroma of caramel, but I couldn't detect any rum.  The drink was indeed caramel with a very faint swipe of rum.  I was grateful for the latter, as I don't like rum flavoring, although I do like rum.  I tried it with some cream and sugar, but they seemed to overwhelm it, which is why I will let it brew longer.   Of course, it may just be a delicate tea.  We'll see.   I had a thought that perhaps a strong cup of this would make an excellent base for hot buttered rum, with a pinch of nutmeg on top, one of my favorite winter drinks.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pot Cleaning Day

"Aaargh," as Charlie Brown would say!  My tea pot and my tea strainers are all dirty looking.  Each pot of tea has left it's brown imprint on them and it is time to do something about them.  So, out comes the vinegar, the baking soda, a clean dish cloth and my tea brush.  The pots are fairly easy, hot water and baking soda, let them rest for a while and then scrub with the dish cloth.  The strainers are more  of a problem, as the very tiny holes are clogged.  I coat them with baking soda, pour on some vinegar and when it has stopped fizzing, I scrub with my tea brush.  Rinse everything really, really well.  There, we're all clean and tidy again.

I hope you noticed that nowhere am I mentioning soap or bleach.  This is because they both leave a residue of scent, which would make my tea taste unpleasant.  Both vinegar and baking soda will dissipate without leaving aromas or tastes you don't want in your tea.  But you must rinse superbly well.

This is in total contrast to the use and care of those delightful little pots made of YiXing clay.  These pots are conditioned in the beginning by simmering them in the tea you will drink out of them in the future.  They absorb the tea flavors, which will enrich each cup.  Traditionally, you would pour some tea over the pot, as well as in it.  It is said that after many years, you can brew tea from the pot without adding any more tea leaves.  My pots are not that old, but I have different pots I use for green, Oolong and white.  I haven't noticed any accumulation of flavor, but I have only had my pots for a few years.

Do any of you have any old YiXing pots that exude flavor on their own?

I am not quite sure how to clean my Sheffield silver pot.  I don't want to take off any of the inside silver and expose the copper.  Guess I better do some research.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tea Treats

Techie Tea Person Treat - In This Week magazine, I spotted a really cute little Robot Tea Filter.  Looks just like a little squarish robot with long arms that hook on the sidesof the cup or mug.  You can also find him at www.RealSimple.com

I got a nifty set of  sample tea bags from Twinings in a small folder - Christmas Tea, Peach cold-brewed ice tea and Pomegranate Delight black tea.  I haven't tried them yet, but they look good.  I also got my monthly sample from Lupicia - White Christmas.

This year, instead of spicing the eggnog, I am going to dress it up with some of my powdered chai mix I got at the Indian store.  I have had this a number of times in a cup of black tea and it has been quite tasty, so I thought I would carefully, one spoon at a time, add it to the Christmas Nog.

Speaking of which, I added some of the chai mix to some shortbread - oh, my, tasty!  I have used lavender before and liked it and now that's two to change around.  I also made some using ginger snap seasoning and that was also really good.  My mother only made shortbread at Christmas and she only made them as these very delicate trees.  So good, so rich.

In all the rush, it is good to have a time for tea, to sit and breather, take stock, admire the scenery, remember what the holidays are all about. 

Hanukkah, the Jewish Featival of Lights is coming on Sunday, Dec 9-Dec 16.  Have a lovely time!  Celebrate! Enjoy your families!  Eat well.