Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

The New Year fast approaches and I want to wish all of you the very best of health, peace, joy, good fortune - every good and wonderful thing for your lives this year!


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Crystal Morning

What a gorgeous morning! Everything is just shining with frost - every little branch and twig. The long needled pine looks ethereal and the weeping Norway spruce looks like a tulle-skirted ballerina. Our Lodge Pole pines remind me of those exquisite Chinese or Japanese ink drawings. In the midst of all that crystal are 3 red berry clusters on the sumac. Just perfect. Like all perfect things, quickly gone, but that is part of their perfection. It can't be prolonged, but it can give you so many moments of joy! I always find that true joy comes in little bits - the way a cat trots, the wobbles of a new fawn, the sun striking just so, the shape of a tree against the sky, a little kid dancing.

I've been savoring some green tea I have reviewed before - Life in Teacup's Snowflakes on Green Lake. It is the finest jasmine tea I have ever had - not that there aren't others as good or better, this is the best I personally have had. I am beginning to understand why the Chinese and Japanese serve their tea in such small cups. I used the whole pot of the Snowflakes in one very large cup. By the 2/3 mark, it was quite cool and getting bitter. I think a smaller pot and smaller cup would keep the enjoyment level high. Bigger is not always better.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tea, Tisane and Teapots

A lovely bright day today after much wind and some snow. The birds are back at the feeders. I got a "squirrel fooler" feeder for Christmas, which I am hoping I will be able to put up closer to the trees and then see if the little buggers and the deer can empty this one!

Do you know the difference between tea and a tisane or infusion? I'll tell you. Tea only comes from the tea plant - Camellia sinensis. Just like coffee comes from a coffee plant. Anything else is not tea. It is an infusion or a tisane. This includes all herbal teas, all rooibos, all mate, honey bush, peppermint, sage, tulsi, etc. There are hundreds, if not thousands of variants of tea, depending on where it is grown and how it is processed. Personally I don't really consider the tea drinks to really be tea, but just a step away from soda and almost all of the flavored stuff falls in that category to me, also. I really prefer my tea straight up, although I do occasionally like Earl Gray and Jasmine. I may report on them here, but if I am drinking tea, it is tea, period.

Today I am preparing the first of my 2 new YiXing teapots for use. This one is for green tea. I first scrubbed it with a new sponge to get rid of any dust clinging to it and then rinsed it several times until it no longer smelled of clay. It is very importent to never use soap, as the clay is very porous. You also only use one type of tea per pot. Then I filled the pot with hot water and let it sit while I brought a pot of water to boil, threw in a handfull of assorted green teas - obviously I am not a purist - and let that boil for 5 minutes. Then I drained the little tea pot, took out as many tea leaves as I could and gently lowered the teapot into the water and turned down the heat to a simmer for 30 minutes. I drained the teapot and put it in a safe place to thoroughly dry. Then it will be ready to make tea.

This is one way to season a YiXing pot. There are others. This was the simplest. These teapots acquire a patina over the years, just as silver does. I've read that with very old pots, you can practically make a cup of tea from the pot alone. We'll see how this all works. Tomorrow I will do the other one for flowery Oolongs, which I prefer to the more roasted tasting ones.

Monday, December 27, 2010

French Tea in the Snow

That's kind of how I feel after Christmas, like a bird about to take wing.

We had such a lovely Christmas. There is nothing quite like seeing everyone have a really good time and knowing that you have made this fun work. It is so satisfying to really please guests and make them feel special. One of our guests is in his 90s - still playing trumpet, still has 7 trumpet students, and one of the true gentlemen of this world. It has been such a privilege to know him.

I certainly got tea presents! A new electric teakettle, which, as the switch on mine is going, is very welcome. I got 4! teapots - 2 Yi Xing teapots that I am intending to use solely for Oolong and the best green teas. I really want to do the whole thing of first boiling them in the tea I want to use in them and then exclusively use them only for that tea. I was especially happy to receive them, because the ones I currently had are so special, I feel I can only display them or use them for very special occasions. I also received a really cute little glass one and a beautiful blue Yi Xing that looks like a bunch of bamboo tied with a small vine. That may be display. I also got some Fauchon tea, which I will have this afternoon and review here.

We had a yummy lunch today - falafel sandwiches. A Middle Eastern treat. It's a mix with the prime ingredient being ground chick peas and spices. You make patties with it and then saute them and put them in pita bread with lettuce, tomatoes and tzatziki, which is a sauce made from Greek yogurt, garlic and finely chopped cucumber. Serve it up with mint tea and be transported to Greece or Morocco. I was trying to think how to do it for a tea, but then I remembered there are those mini pitas. Hmm and with some of those lovely Greek pastries... You could have a really nice exotic party, perfect for the winter doldrums.

However, on to the tea. As I said, this is from Fauchon, another French tea company. It is called Le Melange Fauchon, aka Fauchon's Blend. The label says it is Ceylon and China Black teas with rose petals, citrus peel and lavender. It comes in a very nice tin, with a sliding, outer lid and an inner one, to keep it nice and fresh. The dry tea smells of old leather with a very heavy, sort of sweet citrus aroma, reminiscent of some of the heavier Russian blends. As it brewed, the scent moderated quite a bit and became much more pleasant. There didn't appear to be much in the way of lavender in it.

The first time I made it, I brewed it for 4 minutes, as they recommend. Unh, unh, the citrus peel overwhelmed everything and it wasn't very nice. The second time I only did it for 3 minutes with a bit more tea. It brewed up a nice dark amber, with almost a sugar cookie aroma to go with the tea and citrus. Interesting. Ah, this time, the tea is much, much better. The citrus seems to be taking its proper place and some sort of spice is coming to the fore. Sadly, I can't say I really like it. I tried it with some sugar and that was a great help, as it smoothed out the edges of the citrus. In fact, with sugar, it is very good, and some cream completes the process. And you all know I am not a sugared tea person. It is always interesting how tea can change so much in one cup, with a few additions.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Joy to You and Yours

Well, gang, here it is Dec. 23. The gifts are bought and sent, a lot of the food is done or thawing, some of the house is clean and I am going to rest up a bit.

I am not trying any new teas for a few days, just going with some of the holiday ones from Celestial you all know about or my favorites of Keemun and Yunnan Gold, all of which I have reviewed.

I managed to do very little in-store shopping this year, so I am in a better mood. I have also been listening to instrumental and Renaissence Christmas music, so I am not tired of carols. I really feel they are used so commercially that one doesn't want to hear them anymore. however, with top quality music, they come alive.

I wish all of you a Christmas blessed by the Lord Jesus, whose birth we celebrate and a New Year that is healthy, happy, joyous and full of growth and good cheer.

I'll be back after Christmas, probably the 27th.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Oh Canada

I got bored with my "look", so I changed it. I am not sure I like this
one, so it may change again.

I love the paintings on these houses in Sorrento, Italy.

It's trying to snow today and the wind is blowing. On my walk, I saw a squirrel with a large "something" in it's mouth. It finally came close enough to recognise it as leaves and sure enough, he scurried up a tree to a hole and climbed in, obviously padding a nest. Our local squirrels are very adept at getting the bird seed for themselves, but I set our ferocious [lol] pussy cats on them. Ernie actually went half-way up their tree to try and catch them. The only result was a lot of squirrel swearing.

I have to say I was most happy to get back inside after our walk and snuggle right up to a tea pot. I am having another gift from Elizabeth from Ontario - President's Choice English Breakfast. And that is indeed what it smells like, but there is a faint cinnamon aroma as well. This is a teabag, which I only brew for 3 minutes, or less if that seems right. On the whole, you brew black tea depending on the size of the leaves - longer for longer leaves. That doesn't seem to work with many of today's Darjeelings, who seem to need to be treated as if they were green - even the second flush and autumnal ones.

The tea smells wonderful - utterly fresh. It's a lovely reddish brown and there is still a hint of cinnamon or sweet to it - unusual in English Breakfast, I think. It is very smooth, not nearly as harsh as many I've had, and yes, there does seem to be a bit of sweetness to it. It's a really pleasant brew.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Oh, Those Camels

We sent out our email Christmas letter and if my husband hadn't started it, I'm not sure I would've remembered it. It turned out to be kind of a hodge-podge. All that carefully planned stuff for Thanksgiving somehow did not carry over into Christmas planning. I guess it was too much for a non-detail person to continue. lol The important stuff is all planned, like Christmas dinner.

Today it is snowing, that lazy drifting kind that we would refer to as "Minnesota snow" when we lived in Michigan. It never snowed much, but it snowed all the time. I want enough to cover the ground so it looks pretty. Getting the critters out this morning was quite a chore, as they all ran to the door, then had to stand and sniff and look around and think about it and, and, and, then sit down and think some more and finally go out, only to turn around and come back in. Cats! Spoiled? My kitties? Surely not!
Today's tea is "Original Russian Caravan" from Upton's, sent to me by my new tea friend, Elizabeth. It is a mix of India, China and Formosan teas, all nice big leaves and a mix of browns. It smells very fresh, with a kind of herbaceous, straw, old wood twist. This delightful aroma continues through the brewing, which I did for 3.5 minutes with boiling water. This is different from many Caravans I've had, in that there is no smokey smell, which generally came from the addition of Lapsang Souchong. No camel smell, either, for which I am grateful. The taste is pretty much like the aroma, a nice woodsy herbaceous taste, with a bit of astringency at the end. A very pleasant blend.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Frosty Green

Last night we went to the movies with some friends - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I enjoyed it, but I had read the books and seen the other movies. It would be hard to make sense of it all unless you had. The most fun part was finally finding the right theater. This is a small town theater, made up of several buildings and it's a real maze, for us, necessitating several changes. An adventure. But it was only $4.00 for a first run movie and you can't beat that. I did notice that Harry and friends had not only 1 but 2 teapots in their runaway tent. We took some of Bertie Botts' Every Flavor Jelly Bellies and I nicely took out the earwax and booger ones. (Jelly Bellies is the brand, the rest is a spoof).
Hooray, hooray, the sun is shining! Which means that I am, too. I love to watch it come up, if I am up. At this time of the year, it shines in the swamp and back lights the fringe of trees at the edge of the lawn and the spinney across the road.
Dear me, what tea to have today. I guess a green, since I am feeling light. It is Frosty Spring Yunnan Roast Green from Life in Teacup. This was picked at the very beginning of the year, so I guess it is appropriate to end the year with it. The dry leaves do not have a great deal of scent. They are quite pretty, ranging from palest to darkest green. I brewed them for 2 minutes with water about 190 degrees. This is a very vegetal green, smelling almost like asparagus. The taste is surprising, as it is not a bit like asparagus, but it is bitter, with a hint of mint, and maybe the merest breath of sweet around the edges. As the tea cools, the aroma softens, as does the flavor. A good tea for making you feel alert and warm, as the bitterness keeps you aware of the tea. Not a bad bitterness, mind you, like citrus pith is, more along the metallic side.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vanilla Trump Card

A gorgeous vine in the courtyard of the Franciscan monastery in Sorrento, Italy. Obviously in more clement weather.
Speaking of which, according to the rumor-mongers - ie. weather reporters, we should have a foot of snow on the ground. Oops, only 1/2 inch. But that's ok, supposedly there are 18 inches coming. Oh well, they did get it right about being cold. It is cold. Perfect weather for tea.
In spite of myself, I have wound up with some Trump Tea - Union Square, " a bold black tea with notes of smooth vanilla bean and rich fine cocoa". All of the ingredients are either organic or "natural". Union Square is one of those old squares/parks in Manhatten. The tea is encased in those little silky pyramids and looks to be full leaf tea with bits of vanilla pod and bits of cocoa. It smelled like vanilla, but I couldn't catch much chocolate. I brewed it for 3.33 minutes and it continued to give off a very pleasant scent.
It tastes pretty pleasant, also. I know I am often very critical of vanilla flavored teas, but this one seems to work. I think the cocoa must have something to do with it, even though I can't discern much more cocoa flavor than I could smell. It all just comes together in a smooth pleasant drink.
Now I am off to the dentist for the last visit for 6 months. Hooray, hooray! Maybe I'll finally even get some cookies mixed up.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I See the Heather Bloomin"

Now that's a lovely sight - flowers in mid-winter, wonderful on an ugly day. Actually it is the
picture closest to heather that I happen to have .

I'm doing that because my tea today, which comes from the Edinburgh Tea and Coffee Company is Heather Tea, a blend of African and Assam tea with a lot of dried heather blossoms. Heather is a beautiful sight in full bloom and I have often had a plant or two, just to keep in touch with that side of my family heritage. My husband often teases me about being a "mutt", but every army in Africa, the Middle East and Europe marched through southern Italy. I mean, how many blond, blue-eyed southern Italians do you know who also have a red beard? A touch Norse perhaps? Descended from Eric the Red?

Back to the tea. It is very pretty in the can, with all those flowers and smells just very faintly flowery. Mostly it is just very fresh tea. I brewed it for 3.5 minutes with boiling water and I must say, it is a hearty color. There is still that faint flowery scent, with just a touch of citrus. The taste is very "British" or should I say "Scottish"? A nice full, Assam/ African taste, somewhat milder than most, again with the citrus/flower teasers. It takes milk well, but I don't do sugar, so I don't know how that will affect it.

I made a very nice Asian style soup last night that I will probably use as a first course for Christmas. It is about half and half chicken and beef broth, about 1 quart total, with a lot of chopped ginger and a good slug of garlic. One thinly sliced onion that was cut in half, a handful of thin sliced shitake mushrooms, two julienned carrots, 3 inches of julienned daikon radish, some practically embryonic bok choy and left over shredded pork. Cook until the veggies are done. Add soy sauce or mirin to taste. Or both. For Christmas, I won't put any meat in it. If the veggies were a bit smaller, I might use it for a tea party. It takes only as long as you need to cut up the veggies and have them cook, maybe 30 minutes, if you're a medium speed cutter. If you can't find baby bok choy at an Asian market, use spinach or julienned pea pods.

I'm sorry I can't give more specific directions, but unless something is new or a particularly good recipe, that is mostly how I cook. It's a bit risky, but then I feel very smart when something really works.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tea Roses

If I were rich I would live in Switzerland for half a year and Italy
the other half. As it is, I guess I will live right where I am.

I take back what I said about the deer. Those lovely scoundrels have eaten ALL the seed from both feeders.

Sorry to be so lax in tea tasting, but I have been trying to finish my gifts for my neighbors. I made them all bread and just finished in time yesterday to take it to our neighbor's party. Now I can do some cookies.

Today I am trying some tea I got a while ago - Taylor's of Harrogate Choice Rose Petal Leaf Tea. The dry leaves are almost blue-black, with a bit of a sheen to them and some rose petals. They smell very strongly of rose, with a citrus overtone - very much like... tea roses. In fact those roses were named that because they had an underlying scent of China tea. I followed their directions and brewed it for 3 minutes with boiling water. Sadly, the scent disappeared, as did the taste. In fact, it was a bit odd, but I am not sure I could describe it. It also was quite weak.
I think I'll make some more tomorrow and see if making it stronger makes it better.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Molasses Cookies for Tea

This is about what it has been looking like around here, Grey sky, sullen river. But today, the sun is lighting up the trees and sparkling on the snow.

I have been noticing that our local grocery stores have been making more of an effort to stock locally grown and produced products. More fruits and veggies, even canned ones like pumpkin and tomatoes and meat, poultry and eggs. Now it is our responsibility to buy them, even if they're not a famous brand.

Our deer herd has been eating the bird seed that gets dropped, but they don't try to eat out of the feeders, even though one would be easy for them to use. For some reason the birds have all stopped coming to eat. Every last one of them.

Yesterday was a good day. I made 3 batches of bread for gifts - cherry and marzipan, chocolate chip and cherry and cheddar walnut, I have to confess I saved one of the cheese loaves for us, because I really love it. The first 2 I got out of Totally Tea Breads, which is a very small book loaded with great recipes, not only for tea breads, but spreads as well.

Ma's Molasses Cookies.
I have no idea where she got this recipe
In 35 minutes, you can have fresh cookies that are super. 325 degree oven

Using a large mixer, mix in order:

2 beaten eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup molasses

Mix together and add
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves

mix in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
the grated peel of one orange or orange oil or 11/2 teaspoon orange extract.

Dump out on floured board and knead about 1 minute, form into 2 long loaves
that fit on a cookie sheet, make them a little taller than wide and bake about 25-30 minutes.

If your kitchen is warm or just because, and the loaves are a bit soft, put the cookie pan with them in the fridge for 1/2 hour and then right into the oven.

You can slice these or just break them off and eat them. You can double the recipe with no problem. You can not add nuts, but I think the orange flavor is essential, whatever it comes from. My kids and everyone else I have ever served these to has loved them. If you make the loves small, you can slice them and add them to your next tea party. They don't keep forever and I would store them in a tightly covered tin with an orange or pieces of apple. They are wonderful with Keemun tea.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Icy Day, Warm Ice Wine

It's really Tuesday.

I am feeling very spiffy today. My narcissi are in bloom! They are filling the house with their lovely heady scent. I always feel so darn smart when something I do for the first time works. Even if it is a no brainer like sticking some bulbs in dirt and watering them once in a while, or making a recipe that really works. I am doing an amaryllis this year, too, so I will really be hot stuff, don't you think?

I found the neatest idea on the chat group Afternoon Tea Across America. It is a tea Advent calendar. Go here - to see it and maybe adapt the idea for yourself. Wouldn't it be a really neat gift for next year for a tea-loving friend? Especially one who has everything. One you could make yourself. I certainly have enough kinds of tea to do it. Now if I can just remember to do it!!!!

Oh snow! Beautiful snow! We have snow! About 3-4 inches. People are driving stupidly and there are smash-ups. Snow driving really is differerent and there's always someone who either doesn't realize it or thinks they are somehow different. After the first snow fall I always find a safe place to throw my car into a skid, so I can remembe how to recover from one safely, as it is counter intuitive. Our new to us car is all wheel drive, so I better read up on it first. I love snow. I love the silence it first creates, the patterns on the porch screens, the scent, the taste, I don't even mind shoveling the first few times. That last pleasure does dim, however, when there is just too much and then I am in favor of just stomping out a path.

I think today would be a perfect day to try some Ice Wine Tea I received from Stepanie over at Steph's Cup of Tea.

Okay, I never did get to that tea, so I am trying again today. Sometimes life interferes with tea drinking, much to my annoyance. On the plus side, I got all the specialty items for holiday entertainment and a bunch of Christmas presents, so I don't need to go near the malls again until after Christmas. I don't mind shopping, but I hate the crowds and the noise and the traffic and the people who are so harassed and unpleasant. A lot of my presents this year are going to be specialty breads, cakes and cookies. If you're not a baker or you're overwhelmed at Christmas, what could be better? I'd like that as a present, myself.

Ice Wine Tea. Neat Concept. Ice Wine is made from grapes that have frozen on the vine, which concentrates the sugars, producing a sweet, but acidic dessert wine. It is a very chancey operation as the grapes have to be perfect, almost over ripe and ice wine is a rare treat.

This dry tea smells intensely of rich deep berries or grape mash, waiting to ferment. I brewed it as I usually do for a black tea - 3,5 minutes with boiling water. If anything, the aroma intensifies as it brews. The tea is a pretty pale amber. What a great taste - like ice wine, sweet and full and deep! It reminds me of some of the better Keemuns, mixed with one of the muscatel Darjeelings. Very very tasty. It also reminds of the autumns in college when I picked grapes for Great Western and Taylor Wine Companies, on the shores of Keuka Lake in the FingerLakes of New York. Thank you, Steph!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Beauty in the Snow

Sleigh bells ring, are you listenin'? In the lane snow is glistenin'.

Just getting ready, it is supposed to snow, anywhere from flurries to dustings
to actual snow for the next 5 days.

My local chain - Weis Markets, has Christmas teas from Bigelow, Stash and Celestial Seasonings. Maybe yours does too. They are also carrying a line from Bigelow that is probiotic, anti-inflammatory and something else - three separate one. I got a couple Christmas teas for guests, but didn't feel like trying anything too new today.

Except, of course, some tea. Today's' cup is Teas Etc. "Oriental Beauty" Oriental Beauty was my introduction to Oolongs and I fell in love with it. I have never had any as good as that first batch, but I've had some good ones. This one smells like baking bread, in the dry leaf. The leaves are quite mixed, with some beige and silver, some long slender pieces and a few shaped like clover leaves. I just did this a little below boiling, for about 2 minutes. It came out a medium old gold in color and as soon as I sipped it I was struck by its full, round mouth feel. It smelled slightly spicey, and a little like corn silk. The main flavor was that of honey and clover, sweet but not at all sugary, with a touch of astringency at the end. The aftertaste was of sweet bland crackers, like perhaps Marie Bisquits. A very nice tea for a quiet afternoon and a rather different Oriental Beauty.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Wind in the Bamboo

I love this picture. I love the contrast between the strength of the
rock and the delicacy of the flowers, the way the flowers fit them selves into the curve of the stones.

This has not been the greatest week for many reasons, but I certainly hope yesterday's episode ended it. The oven was a little dirty - really, a little, but it was enough to constantly set off the fire alarm, so I decided to clean it. So I did and it melted the oven controls on top of the stove. A new one is coming today. Good thing tea doesn't need an oven.

How is your Christmas shopping coming? Mine is almost done. I start in January and when I see something for someone, I grab it and stash it. In early November, I see what else I need or what can only be gotten last minute - like baked goods or candy. Now, if only I were that good about birthdays and housecleaning and planting schedules. Oh, the list goes on...

Reminder - if you haven't done it - stock up on those special teas you like for Christmas. There are a lot I know you like, so make sure you get them now, don't wait any longer or they'll be gone. I have to admit, I do love some of the Celestial Seasonings offerings. It's very easy to order them on line - grocery stores can be very chancy.

It's such a nice day I am going to try a green tea - after I take the vacuum cleaner in to be fixed - one of this week's many not-so-happy ingredients.

I was so lucky today - decided to do a bit of shopping, if the stores weren't too bad, so I did. And I found a beautiful teapot with poppies. I got very fond of poppies in Italy and have some cups and saucers with them and now, I have a teapot, too! None of them match, except for the flowers. But that is kind of how I am, anyway.

The tea I've chosen is Life in Teacup's Bamboo Leaf Green, Zhu Ye Ong. I love bamboo, I think it is a beautiful plant and I love to listen to the wind blow through it. [Next spring, my friend Leon is giving me some to shade our porch. I can hardly wait. ] This tea is very attractive, with long slender, flat leaves that feel like silk sliding through your fingers, you can almost hear the soft susseration of a breeze as they pour into the cup. There is not a lot of scent in the dry leaves. I brewed it for about 2 minutes with water about 180. [Next time, I will use a lower temperatures, as by the time the cup is done, the tea begins to get bitter]. The aroma became that of cookies with a green twist added. The brew was a pale gold, with a helping of green to tame it. The taste is a delicate green with some astringency, with perhaps some good metallic overtones. This again strikes me as a tea made for all day sipping. As I sip, the wind is beginning to move the pines and a few round flakes of snow start to fall.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Picking Berries With the Earl

It started out so beautifully today, with so much sun. Now it is November grey. It is better than yesterday when it rained so hard, we could hardly see and then we had sleet and finally, snow. Fortunately, I managed to be inside for all the very worst of it - good errand planning. Ha Ha.

The rivers and creeks, of which we have an overabundant share, are just roaring. But it is nice and warm inside and I have a tea that matches the picture, having pink raspberries and blue flower petals in it. It is Culinary Tea's Earl Grey Raspberry Tea. Amazing - I can remember when there was Earl Grey and then a foray into Earl Grey Decaf and now, you can hardly name all the varieties of them.

This one smells just like its name, Earl Grey with raspberries. It is a black tea and the pieces varied from about 1/2 inch to a good bit of dust. I don't know if that was from the journey here or if it was not the best quality tea. I brewed it my usual 3.5 minutes at boiling and the scent of raspberries and bergamot did a kind of a dosey-do, first one was forward and then the other. Very nice. The brew was a fairly light amber, which I was a bit surprised by, as I had made it on the strong side. Sadly, the tea itself did not live up to its aroma. It kind of tasted the way good mulch smells. Neither of us cared for it. Neither the Earl nor the raspberries could really be tasted.

Ya know, I've not had very good luck at all with flavored Earl Grey. Some I can tell are good, just not to my taste. Some are not so good, period. Maybe I should take a hint!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Oranges in the Rain

Love the sun and the sea on the Amalfi coast

Hoo boy, rain! It rained hard last night and today it is blowing and raining. Only Bert the brave has gone out. Ernie is whining about it, Andy went out, got rained on and returned immediately. La Principessa thinks they're all stupid and remains regally on her silk cushion.

I've just joined the Cornell Feeder Watch program, where I keep a tally of the number and kind of birds that I see in my backyard, two days a week. I don't get a huge variety as my yard is new and it is quite a ways to the trees. So far, the dread starlings haven't discovered us, and I am just as happy.

I was out for lunch and had a pleasant tea - Wild Sweet Orange from Tazo. This is a "juicy blend of lemongrass, citrus herbs, licorice root and orange essences", an herbal blend. It was a teabag, in a pot of very hot water. I let it brew about 5 minutes. It was so good. There was some sweetness, but mostly a very clear, sharp orange taste, a bit acid, a bit full and well-rounded. I am always surprised by Tazo, their teas carry a lot of flavor for a tea bag tea, much more than I would expect. I don't think I've had any that weren't well done.

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.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spice and Everything Nice

A scene from the outdoor museum in Ballenberg, Switzerland. It
is a lot like Mystic Village or Plimoth Plantation, where old buildings and heritage animals [such as that turkey] are preserved and there are costumed people doing all manner of things, like baking bread, tending the animals, playing old games. A really fun place to visit.
I spoke too soon yesterday. We are supposed to get snow flurries for the next several days, with nighttime temperatures in the low 20's. I guess summer is really over.
Brilliant color has been hard to find this fall, but of late, the yellow trees are putting on a really good, stand-out show. One particularly beautiful yellow was hit by a shaft of sunlight this morning, backed up by dark blue clouds - magnificent! My lovely red maple in the back has lost it's leaves and now it is pretty gray out this window. I think I'll put both bird feeders here for something nice to watch.
Sometimes our cats are particularly cute. They've been lined up in a row on the other side of the road, watching the squirrels in a big stand of oak trees. They just watch - maybe they know they'll never catch them or maybe this is "kitty TV". The only other time I've seen them do that was when there was a skunk in the yard and then it was from the safety of the porch. As for me, I am watching a confab of crows in the back yard. They are beautiful intelligent creatures. If they had nice voices we would love them.
This is a perfect day for tea, as what day is not? I'm going with two old friends, Upton's and Yunnan. It is their China Select Tippy Yunnan, Catalogue number ZY88. This lovely stuff smells like peppered old wood and the very best of burleigh tobacco. The leaves are long and twisted with a great abundance of golden tips among them. I could not brew if for the recommended 5 minutes, so I only did 4, using a good 1.5 teaspoons because the leaves are so big. I think I really need to make my scale more accessible, so I can more accurately measure big ones like these. But that has always seemed just too snobby and/or mechanical to me. While it was brewing it gave off a lovely aroma of spiciness, on top of the other, along with a hint of chocolate. Is Yunnan back? The proof is always in the taste.
Oh hooray, this is good stuff! Very thick and smooth with woodsy, spicy tones here and there, a lingering roasty toasty feel, a bit of new pencils, newly sharpened. It is so smooth that the other tastes or sensations are very welcome, lest it slip down too easily. The wet leaves are huge! Personally I think more of the high and low notes come out as it cools. I am doing a second wash, for 5.5 minutes with half the water, as I have found that some black teas will still be good this way, and, given the higher prices, I can make my tea go farther. And, second washes often bring out new tastes. Ah well, not this one, all the good stuff is gone and it hardly even tastes like tea.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Fabulous First

Another Swiss mountain hut.

We're off to China again today, with a white tea from The Tea Spot, named Snowflakes. I hope it is not the precursor to the real things. This is my first white tea prepared properly. On their site, The Tea Spot says this is a single estate tea. It has the highest amount of antioxidants because it is the least processed of all the teas. They go on to say it has the least amount of caffeine, but there is some argument about that.

The dry leaves are a pale green with abundant silvery hairs. I cannot detect a scent. I brewed it up with 175 degree water for about 6 minutes. As it brewed I couldn't catch any aroma, other than a vague floral. The brewed tea is a very pale yellow and has a delightful floral taste, very delicate, but lingering.

My first time with white tea it was brewed in a microwave and I thought, hunh, this is just expensive water. The second time it was flavored with licorice, not a true test, so I really count this as first, and it is good, indeed.

I have led you astray. I told you the Korean teas I have reviewed were from the Korean Tea Company. They were not, they are from the Hankook Tea Company and are distributed by Good Green Tea. My apologies. You can visit their site at

Friday, October 29, 2010

Death of a Prince

A summer storage hut for cheese and milk.

Smoley Hokes, but it is cold today! I felt sorry for the folks at the farmers market. I bought some nice pears and other fruits and veggies. I have my counter full of stuff that is going into something today. Scallion rolls, apple pie, biscotti. If it's cold, cook, it warms you up.

A few days ago I said I was going to try Culinary Teas Prince of Wales Blend. It has taken me this long to get past the smell, which I think is horrid. The tea is kind of pretty, small leaves enlivened by red, white and blue petals. This is called a "Royal Blend" by them and identified as an afternoon tea with hints of black currant.

I am not even going to describe it. In my opinion it is awful! As bad as the smell. Rank, harsh, nasty.

Prince of Wales used to be one of my true favorites but in the past several years I have really not found one that is good, let alone excellent. I don't know if it is my changing tastes or if the good flavorings are no longer available. I like black currants, that is not the issue.

I read in a tea chat room that someone was reluctant to buy an electric kettle because of the difficulty of getting rid of scale. Scale is a whitish layer that forms on the heating or keep warm elements of these kettles from minerals in the water. It really is very easy to get rid of. We have pretty hard water, so every 6-8 weeks I simply run a potful with a hefty dose of lemon juice. Dump it out, rinse well and you're done. Before we moved I only need to do it about every 4 months. It all depends on the water you use.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pumpkins With Coyotes

Yesterday was Summer, today is definitely Autumn, wind, cold,but blue skies and sun.

Last night was sort of disturbing. I think I've mentioned we have coyotes around us. Well, last night they sounded like they were right in our yard, there was so much loud yipping, howling and growling. Of course, one of our cats was out and I was very concerned about him. Especially at 4 am when it sounded like something was being killed right under my bedroom window. So, I leapt up, turned on all the outside lights and saw nothing, but I could still hear one coyote howling and growling nearby. Scary. Mr Andy, the absent cat, strolled in this am, nonchalant as could be. I was glad to see him, but I warned him about night excursions.

Two short reviews today. One from Hankook Korean Tea - Green Tea with Persimmon. It smelled almost minty with woodsy overtones as it was brewing - too small a sample in the packet. When it finished the infusion looked like old gold and smelled of hot metal, with medicinal touches, which is just how it tasted, no matter what I did with it. I did not care for it. I think it must have been persimmon leaves, as I assume the fruit would be, well, fruity and sweet.

The second is from Bigelow's and is their Autumn offering - Pumpkin Spice. The name says it all. It smells nice and spicy and full of pumpkin. I let it brew for 4 minutes and it was lovely. I added cream, but no sugar, as I thought it was sweet enough. However, I thought it would be a bit fuller tasting with some sugar, so I added some and it was. The box says you can make this as an ice tea, but that just doesn't appeal to me. It's a nice treat and could serve as dessert if you want to be careful with calories.