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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A bit of Keemun Sparkle

It is very quiet this morning, with the sort of silence that only comes with new snow fall. There is a drifting, dreaming quality to it as it slips and sifts through the trees.  Sunset last night was also special, as the last rays turned the bog pink, then gold and finally blue.

I hope you all have taken advantage of the myriad tea sales on the net and elsewhere.  Some sales are continuing until the end of November or into December, so you might want to check on your favorite venders.  Having more tea than I can drink in about 5 years, I did not, but it was a terrible temptation.

Today I am trying one of the Tea Trekker's tea, Keemun Mao Feng Premium.  This hails from Anhui Province in China and is organic.  The leaves are certainly black, twisted, thin and somewhat long.  They give off an aroma of oak, earth and cinnamon.  I brew it for about 4 minutes with water just off the boil.

This tea is as smooth as silk.  It indeed has a very oak wine barrel taste, with just a little hint of spice at the end - it leaves your tongue kind of sparkly.

These two old structures are in Durlach, Germany and date from the 1500s.  Europe really understands " Use it, use it up, re-use it."  While we were there, we had icecream in a fairly new structure - 1690.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Have a Blessed Day

To all my tea friends:  May this be a day full of goodness and gratitude.  May it be a day when all the food turns out just right - or bad enough to be a good Thanksgiving story  May your hearts be full of love and may you remember those who do not have much  - resolve to be generous.

Bless you all and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Prince Stops in For Soup

I've been making a lot of soups, like potato, bean and lentil.  I love these thick winter soups.  For some reason they brought to mind my mother.  Why, I don't know because her idea of soup was open a can or the box of Mrs. Grasso's noodle soup.  She was an okay cook.  She did some things well, mostly desserts and Sunday dinner type things.  But I do remember one spectacular failure which entered family legend.

You all know I grew up on a farm and most of us were on the poor side, so we shared equipment with other farmers - hay balers, wheat thrashers, silage makers etc.  This meant at harvest time there would be a large group of farmers at someone's house to help bring in whatever the current crop happened to be.  Mother had gotten a potato ricer and used it to do the potatoes for the 10+ men.  But she didn't add any butter or milk, so there were these hard little pellets of potato.  Not too popular, so she served them the next day!!!!!  My father suggested she serve something else and quietly threw out the dangerous tool.  But we all had many laughs about this over the years.

By the way, I put some Lapsang Souchong in my lentil soup, along with a smoked ham hock - yum, yum, yum.  The soup needed something and I thought that would do it and it did!.

I've been drinking Twinings Prince of Wales Tea.  I have been aging this for 3 years.  Or, since I really ought to tell the truth, I put it in a cupboard and forgot it for 3 years.  But the former sounds so special.  Oh well.  This is one of Twinings Classics, formulated many years ago.  A few years ago they tried to update this and Earl Grey, but there was such outrage from consumers that they now have "Classics" of these 2. 

The dry tea smells somewhat winey, somewhat of deep forests.  I suspect there is some spice there too, which all leads me to believe that the majority of this tea is Keemun, along with some Yunnan.  Fine with me, these are my favorites.  As it brews there is a touch of farmers' washing compound, steamy laundry and fresh air on a windy day.  The brewed tea does not disappoint.  It's a very smooth tea, quite at home either straight or with milk.  In spite of that there is a bit of a rough edge to keep it interesting.  To me, for some reason, it tasted something like granite or some other rough rock.  There was also a bit of deep wine barrel to add even more fun.

This morning was utterly gorgeous - we had fog and it froze on every twig, branch and leaf there is.  All silver and white.  Now there is blue sky and sun.  One thing I have learned in the Northeast, is to appreciate all the small things that are around in the late fall/winter seasons.  There is so much beauty if you look for it amid the gloom and gray.  Things may be small, but they can add wonderfully to a dismal day.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

One Brief Shining Moment

That is indeed what we had early this morning.  We had our first snow - all 1 inch of it!  As the sun was coming up, the trees around the bog were caught in the rising mist, all splendid, shining silver. Then the clouds, consumed with jealousy, hid it all and forced their gray selves upon us.  But we live for those momemts.

And... we comfort ourselves with tea, which can be another shining moment.  Today seems like an Oolong day and I am having Jung Xuan from Alishan, Taiwan via the Red Blossom Tea Company.  This is one of those little-balls-with-a-tail Oolongs that are such fun to watch unfurl.  In the packet, it smells like fresh hay or cut lawn, with a lovely hint of jasmine/orchid/gardenia coming out if you inhale deeply.

I brewed it for 3 minutes with water about 200 degrees.  The resulting liquid is a soft yellow-green, with that great floral aroma.  It has a light, fresh taste, with a lovely floral accompaniment.  On the whole it is very like almost every Ali Shan, I've tried.  I would rate it about in the middle of that pack.  Very pleasant, but not outstanding.

The day has had other lovley bits in it.  I saw three hawks - a harrier, a red-shouldered and a red tail in various places on my travels.  The best, only seen now that the leaves are gone was several!! oriole nests.  I am thrilled, as I wondered if we would ever see any more.  They used to nest in elms, usually over a stream, but the elms are gone.  Now, many of them nest over roads, which perhaps, seem like streams to them.  I had 3 of these gorgeous birds at the feeders this summer.

Speaking of which, Cornell U. has a program called Project Feeder Watch where you can keep track of birds in your yard and report them to a data collection site.  You can also find out which birds are where and the most common ones.  Just google Project Feeder Watch and read all about it.  A good thing to do with your tea.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tea and Flower Bulbs

Wow, 2 whole days of relatively warm temperatures!  For those of us who really blew it on planting bulbs, this was a real blessing!  I am always amazed about how many bulbs it takes to make a good showing.  Most of mine went around the lavender bed, so there will be some color while that is looking scruffy.  I don't bother planting tulips as all sorts of critters like them.  I finally bought myself some Fritillaria Persica, a tall dark purple member of this wide ranging family.  It is incredible to me that the tiny checkered fritillaria are in the same family as the very tall Fritillaria Imperialis - the bright orange and yellow ones.

I have drinking a lot of Royal Tea of Kenya's Kenya Black Highland Tea.  As you might be able to guess, it is a black tea, of the CTC variety and I swear these little balck pellets are the smallest I've seen.  This is what I would call a plain tea.There aren't any nuances and no surprises, but it's just a sturdy every day or morning tea.  I generally brew it about 2.5 minutes as CTC tea brews up very quickly.  Sometimes I've gone to 3 minutes and that is just fine as well.  I think more than that would see a lot of tannin come out.

J-Tea of Eugene, Oregon is having a big celebration of black teas on Black Friday (aka the day after Thanksgiving).  One of the features will be Minto Island Black Tea, which is grown in Oregon.  There will be lion dancers and tea leaf readings among many other things.  Check it out at www.jteainternational.com

The Tea Spot is having a drawing to win free tea for a year.  It's on  their website or on Facebook.  I signed up, I'd love free tea for a year.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Tea News

There will be an International Tea Festival in San Francisco on Sun. Mar 10 in San Francisco.  For more information  go to www.sfinternationalteafestival.com

There is a new tea company in Tennessee, Angelique Greer's Legacy Tea Blends.  She draws heavily from her African-American folk medicine roots, inspired also by European folk roots as well.  Angelique is a holistic nutritionist and uses these skills in her tea blending.  This is a true family business, as her husband and three children are also involved.  Many of her recipes she learned from her grandmother and she is now passing them on to her children and one day, hopefully to grandchildren.

The Republic of Tea has some new blends - Black Currant Cinnamon for one.  They have a lot of small samples that would make great stocking stuffers.

 Samovar Tea  has a twenty per cent sale on for black teas - use blackt20 as the code.  Only black teas, remember.

October saw the launch of the new on-line branch of Rare Tea Cellar, which previously only sold to the most exclusive and expensive restarants in the world.  I checked out the site and there are certainly some very pricey items there.  There are a few that are less expensive, but there is nothing to indicate how many ounces you are getting for your money.  There are also teawares and some high end food items www.rareteacellar.com

Thanksgiving Thought - Over the course of several days discussions about many things, I realized how thankful I am that I grew up in a family that may have been poor in worldly goods, but was rich in love and generosity.  That love and generosity was turned outward to the community in a sharing of what we had.  Long before there were books or catch phrases about "It takes a village", my family lived it.  I am thankful that I can be generous as well.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Anatevka, Anatevka, Tumble Down, Work-a-day

Oh wonder of wonders!  The sun shone almost all day!  Oh frabjouse joy!

I watched "Fiddler on the Roof" the other night for about the gazillioneth time.  I saw it first in NYC on Broadway with Zero Mostel.  I've seen it with Leonard Nimoy.  I've seen it in summer stock, on high school stages,  in a movie, just about anywhere.  It never fails to please and tear at my heart strings. This time I noticed Golde giving Yenta a cup of tea in small glasses, with metal holders and Yenta takes a lump (or the whole bowlful of lumps) of sugar to sip it through, in true Russian style. 

It encouraged me to have a cup of Czar Nicholas Russian tea to watch it with.  This is sort of an Earl Grey on steroids.  There is the somewhat floral note of the bergamot, but then there are the other citrus and maybe spice base notes that come in to give it more substance.  I have it often and while it is not a big favorite, I am intrigued by it as I can't separate out the different components and I am hoping that this time...  I did not sip it through lumps of sugar, not having any lumps, but perhaps I could try it with a bit of jam, which is also an acceptable Russian style.

I was driving along the river today and saw some beautiful scenes.  A stretch was very quiet and reflected first the red bushes by the edge, then the green pines and lastly the BLUE sky.  About halfway up another hill was a large stand of tamaracks, shining gold, the last of the pine type trees to lose their needles and the only ones to lose them all every year.  They are so heart-lifting when the rest of the hills are grey and brown.  There were a few yellow aspens and alders hanging on as well, but everything else got blown by Sandy.

I just got a sample from Lupicia, one of my favorite flavored tea folks - Caramel and Rum.  Doesn't that sound yummy for cold days?  I also heard that Simpson and Vail has a new holiday tea - a green rooibos named Candy Cane.  Don't forget your Celestial Seasonings offerings or the Eggnogger from Bigelow Teas.
Many of these can be ordered on line so you'll have them before the holidays arrive.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ernie Strikes Again

Why on earth should I write about cats and tea?

Well, for one thing, the Ernster cat has his head in my teacup, joyfully lapping up the last spoonful or two. He is always alert to the presence of food and drink in his life, especially if it is mine. He will circle in ever-narrowing rings, purring louder and louder until at last he has gained my lap, whereupon he pretends he is really not there. He does not like tea or ice cream and buttered toast is anathema to him. However, should a morsel of them be left, gentleman that he is, he will gladly lick them up, so I perhaps won't have to wash so many dishes. Uh hunh!

However, there are times when he is so eager to be helpful that a paw slides up over the edge of the dish, in case there are just too many crumbs or in fear I would be overtaxed by drinking too many more sips of tea or spoons of ice cream. It is so comforting to be cared for in such a loving manner.

Ernie does have his preferences. After all, he is a cat and must maintain standards. The tea he heartily approved of last week gets the “two-back-paws-covering-it-up” award this week. Cream is acceptable, skim milk garners only a disdainful sniff. He does believe that Oolong and green should never have anything in them and if you must, sugar, please, not that ghastly pink stuff.  Lemon is most assuredly not to be added.

Beyond this sometimes excessive care, he is also willing to warm my lap and provide a book rest. Thus, I may experience a triple attention to my needs - warmth, intellectual companionship and butler service. All this for just a bit of tea and toast. Almost as good as and much cheaper than a husband. But I think I’ll keep mine, anyway.

Ernie is not a spoiled cat. Heavens, no, he is indulged, as befits a cat.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Coffee And Tea Festival Postponed

The Coffee and Tea Festival that was to be held in Atlantic City  Nov 3-4 has been postponed.  This has not yet shown up on some of their websites, but has come through email announcements.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Prayers For The People

It is a sad day for many on the coast.  We've been there and believe me, you have our thoughts and prayers and any help we can send you.  We do know what you're going through - the fear, the despair, the worry, the numbness.  We only hope that things can quickly get back to normal for you.

Having said that, it is hard to return to the more mundane topic of tea.  However, I am reminded that during WWII, tea kept many people going and throughout London, there were tea canteens to lift people's spirits.  There are pictures of even the King and Queen, whom we knew as the Queen Mum, in the canteens, handing out and drinking tea with those suffering in the Blitz.  Tea is not only a ritual and a pleasant moment in the day, it is life-sustaining.  When we were going through the flood and its aftermath last year, a cup of tea really made a difference.

I think in honor of brave people everywhere, I will indeed lift a cup of tea.  It is from Verdant Tea, their Wild-picked Yunnan, Jin Jun Mei.  It is very interesting.  The packet is coated with gold dust and the dry golden leaves smell like sugar cookies!  The leaves are about medium long and twisted.  There aren't many brown or tan ones.  They are very fluffy so I am using about 1.5 teaspoons per cup, with almost boiling water for about 3 minutes.

The brew is a lovely golden amber and smells very fall-ish.  There are dry leaves, a hint of nuts, and a hint of tobacco, but there is a nice edge of sweetness as well.  Perhaps there is also a touch of green in the mix.
The tea has some dryness in my mouth and the bite of walnuts.  At the end, there is a feeling of smoothness left in the mouth.  There is a hint of caramel, which is enhanced by the addition of a bit of cream.  I know many people consider the addition of anything sacrilege, but I like my tea that way, on the whole, although less so than before. 

The pitch pines are now all green and we have a lawn full of tiny gold soldiers, standing ever so erect and at attention.  I didn't realize the wind blew straight down last night.  It sure did howl.  I love storms and we don't get many here.  I know they can cause infinite trouble, but I appreciate their sound and fury anyway.  I even like blizzards, even if I have to shovel.  That said, I would like to see some sun in the forecast.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Earl Gray, Hot

On a facebook post, someone was asking if we would really want to give up tea ritual for a machine that basically does it all for you.  Some mornings, I would love it if I walked in the kitchen and a perfectly prepared cup of tea was handed to me, all without any input from me.  I would love a gizmo like Jean-Luc Picard had where I could just say "Earl Gray, hot" and there it would be.  That's my morning person - a very slow starter, full of fog.

However, once past that, I enjoy tea ritual as it gives small pauses in the day.  Selecting the tea, the cup, the water temperature.  Then there is admiring the different scents and leaf configurations, seeing if this one shines or is muted, deciding whether or not to have milk in it, whether a small snack would compliment it.  I love to watch the leaves unfurl, especially in a glass pot, where they sometimes dance up and down.  I love to sniff the brewing tea and compare that aroma to the dry tea  and wonder if I should let it brew a few more seconds.  It is good for me to be focused on one small part of life.  It is so easy for me to get scattered and this centering is welcome.  My days feel cheated when it doesn't happen.

How about you?  Are you more fond of the Jean Luc method or the ritual method?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Turkey Time Is Coming

A good gray misty morning to you.  See, even we Northeasterners can try to be cheerful about the weather.  I noticed yesterday that the brook which drains our currently spectral bog is once again running happily over its stony bed.  We haven't really seen anything there but damp spots since May.  In fact, we have lately had so much rain that the front yard is beginning to flood. 

Thanksgiving is coming.  I was thinking about our times together when the boys were young.  We had adopted them when they were 8 and 10, so we did not have shared holiday memories.  In fact, as you might imagine, holidays could be difficult, fraught with more baggage than happiness.  One of the things we did to ease things was to incorporate things they did remember happily.  The other, which eased the confrontation of unfamiliar foods, was to make 2 rules:  You didn't have to eat anything you didn't want to, but you had to eat some of the main meal in order to have dessert.  After discussion this was instituted with many friends and family and made for many happier meals, as their children appreciated this luxury as well.

I suppose we need to think about what teas to have that day.  I know I am going with some sort of tea-based punch for appetizers.  I have been thinking about a mix of Red Zinger and Harney's Cranberry Tea.  I don't have the recipe down yet, I have to try it out on a small scale, first.  If I have bleu cheese as part of the appetizer, I may go with hot Lapsang Souchong, as the two go together very nicely.  We all drink wine and water with  the meal, so then it is only dessert to think about.  I will probably have a Yunnan or Keemun as they are sturdy and can go with whatever pies I decide to make.  However, if it is a coconut cream, I may have to think some more about it.  Any suggestions?  I don't want to do a coconut flavored tea, as my pie recipe is pretty intense in that department.  Perhaps one of the fruity or flowery Oolongs.

The pitch pines are looking very raggedy.  They have dropped most of their needles, making the ground a spectacular gold in the sun, but they have enough left that they look like they can't decide whether to go green or blond.  Such a fashion dilemma.

I have gotten the garden about 1/2 ready for winter.  It looks pretty ugly as most plants are still young, so there's not a great deal of structure there.  It's just brown and raggedy.  I hope we get snow soon.  It is so much harder to put a garden to bed than to help it wake up in the spring, when there is so much to look forward to and we cheer each new sprout, entranced by yet another miracle of life.  Guess I'll just be happy with the deer forming new attachments and getting antlers.

One of the things I envied in Germany and elswhere was courtyards, with a house or a group of houses built around them.  From a small child, I always loved secret spaces, where I could play out my fantasies or just feel snug.  I would like a garden like that. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Small Science Experiment

The young sugar maple at the edge of the woods has changed all its leaves to apricot red gold.  It is spectacular in its beauty.  It is best in the dismal grey light we are currently having or in the very early morning, lighting up the mist.  The wild lavender asters are a perfect foil for it.

We did indeed have frost and even the brave little marigolds are now brown and bedraggled.  However, the mounds of sweet allysum are still going strong, although now one must bend over to smell them.  The remaining basil is naught but tattered rags.

Did you ever wonder why your tea tastes differently from the way the packet or web site says it should?  It is probably your water.  There is a good article about that on The English Tea Store's Blog.  Our water is pretty good, but on the days the water board is pouring extra chemicals in it, it is just plain awful.  I use a filter most of the time so that my tea tasting is at least reasonably consistent.

Hmm, maybe I'll just do a little experiment, filtered vs. unfiltered water.  I was as scientific as possible.  I used water just off the boil, identical cups, identical amounts of water and tea bags, as I am assuming they would have as nearly identical amounts of tea as possible.  I brewed them for 4 minutes.  I used DavidsTea English Breakfast.  It's a mix of Assam, Yunnan, Keemun and Uva Highlands Ceylon.

The aroma of both was very, very similar, with the filtered one being a tad fuller and rounder.  Both were somewhat oak/acorn like with a touch of dairyman's special washing compound.  (You can take the girl off the farm, but the farm is still in her).  The unfiltered tea was beginning to be a touch tannic, but was primarily a very nice autumnal tasting tea, with the flavors of nuts and roasted squash predominating, but underlain with a bit of greenish something.  The filtered one was much smoother, but surprisingly lacking in definitive flavors.  Everything seemed muted, shadows of the unfiltered tea.  I was most surprised.  I am going to do this again with other teas and see how they fair.

By the way, both cups are quite good, just markedly different.

I saw a crow on the lawn today who was pretending to be a robin.  You know how robins have that super-intent, crooked-head look when they are listening for a worm or a bug?  This crow  was just like that, which is unusual for the species.  We had blue birds this am at the feeders - they should have left a while ago.  Last year they hung around, but it was very mild with almost no snow.

On the Rhine, a small village huddles beneath a castle, now an hotel.  I don't see a road, so does one have to climb up to stay there?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Baked Applesauce and Tea

The weather cannot decide what to do with itself.  The sun shines, but huge black clouds are chasing it and, for a while, they win and it rains and sleets!  Then it is 10 degrees warmer because the sun is back.  But it is clear that the thermometer is only really going in one direction, down, and we will have a killing frost tonight.  I am just as glad.  What few flowers are left are raggedy and worn, time for them to be put to bed in the compost pile.  However, I am left with one glorious nature picture.  A really brilliant maple, shining so brightly in the sun becomes back lit by the very dark clouds and suddenly, brightness is rendered in stark, glowing neon!  Just breath-taking.

The Downies seem to have settled their differences and peace is reigning in our little corner of the world, at least among the feathered.  The furred realm tells a different story - I have been feeding a stray, a really beautiful black male named Black Kitty - really creative, aren't I.  He looked terrible when I started 6 months ago, but now he is gorgeous.  He is very polite and just eats from his dish and generally either takes a short nap or goes right out again.  However, Sarah hisses, Bert swats, and Ernie whines at him.  Neurotic ol' Andy pretends he is terrified.  He ignores them all, being composed of heavy muscle while their laziness -es are pretty wimpy.

I made Baked Apples applesauce today.  I had only bland tasting apples, so as I added cinnamon and cardamom, I thought, hmm I bought these for baked apples, why not... So I added raisins, a little brown sugar and some butter.  Voila,  Baked Apples Sauce.  It's very good.   I had it with some chamomile tea and toast.  The chamomile picks up the apple and they play nicely with each other.  A fortuitous discovery.  If you make very strong chamomile tea and boil it down it makes a lovely addition to a custard, using some of it in place of milk. 

I also had a little leftover Lapsang Souchong and instead of milk in my scrambled eggs, I used the tea.  Just the nicest hint of smoke.  I also use it in beef stews, to replace some of the liquid.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Woodpecker Watching With Chai

Today the great radiant heart of the sun is shining on the lovely gold and apricot trees and it is warm.  However, step into the shade and there's a different story.  Autumn's chill is here.  In fact, I think we had some frost last night - not enough to kill things, but tonight it is supposed to go below freezing.  Maybe I had best dig up that tender lavender and bring it in.  It can join the hibiscus, which are blooming their hearts out.  Great double reds and peaches,  a huge single dark red, almost mahogany in its throat.

Today is a good day for a chai and I have just the thing.  One of my WTE finds is Nature's Guru Instant Cardamom Chai.  I had tried this at the show and liked it, so I got some.  First of all, it is definitely cardamon.  And sweet.   It couldn't be simpler to prepare, open the packet, add hot water, stir.  I really like - so much so I bought a 4 pack from Amazon.  It is also carried by health food stores and Whole Foods Markets.  I am a big fan of chai, anyway and I found this to have a lovely balance.  If you don't like cardoamom, they have several other varieties, some sweetened, some not.  I got the unsweetened, as this was over the top for me.  Himself, of course, thought it was just right.

Did you know that these are the hibiscus you can dry and make into tea?  My friend, Marcel, the chef, dries them, pulverizes them and uses them in sugar to add color and a hint of flavor to fruits and peels he dries and candies.

The Downy Woodpeckers are diminutive - about 4-5 inches long, but they can be scrappy.  We have 4 tiny males battling it out at the suet.  There are 3 feeders and they are so small that each feeder can easily hold 2, but no, fight they must.  From the looks of things, I think it may be a sorely tried papa trying to get his young ones to feed themselves.  The papas and mamas certainly looked tired and bedraggled this summer from their fledglings.

These little birds have an odd habit. They take a long time of looking around to see if it is safe before they feed.  However, they are chirping loudly as they do so, giving the blue jay "bully boys" plenty of time to notice them and swoop in.  I keep thelling them to be quiet, but I guess I don't speak "downy".

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Rishi Tea for Me

One of the really good teas I got to try at World Tea East was Rishi Tea's Earl Grey.  The aroma was spectacular.  It was perfume wafting on the wind, it was sweet, citrussy, everything you want an Earl Grey to be.  The taste was the same, with just a hint of something like chamomile.  This is easily the best Earl Grey I've ever had.  And that is going some.  So I tried their Earl Grey Green.  Another winner.  The aroma was the same, though underlaid with green-ness.  The EG taste was not as strong, so that the green tea came through as well.  Every bit as good, maybe even a bit better as it was all more subtle.  Since I was on a roll, I tried some Long Jing Dragonwell.  It was so good, I was almost speechless.  I love Dragonwell and most of what I've had has been excellent, but I think this was in the "most excellent" category.

There are many awards for teas.  The Grandaddy of them are the awards from the Tea Association of North America but our own Association ofTea Bloggers has begun to recognize the ones we particularly like.

TheTea Bloggers Choice Awards for 2012 :

Unblended/Unflavored Black : Teavivre Yunnan Dian Hong Golden Tip
Blended/Flavored Black: Harney and Sons Earl Grey Supreme
Unblended/Unflavored Green: Den's Tea Gyokuro Kin
Blended/Flavored Green: Aiya Tea Matcha Infused Sencha
Unblended/Unflavored Oolong: Teavivre Jin Xuan Milk Oolong
Blended/Flavored Oolong: Naivetea Lychee Oolong
Unblended/Unflavored White: Rishi-Silver Needle Premium
Blended/Flavored White: Art of Tea Coconut Creme White Tea
Unblended/Unflavored Puerh: Rishi Ancient Puerh Classic
Blended/Flavored Puerh: Stash Black Forest Cake Puerh
Herb Blend: David's Tea Chocolate Rocket
Single Herb: David's Tea Spearmint

Some of the Tea Bloggers will be at the Coffee and Tea Festival in Atlantic City Nov 3-4 and wil be judging teas and tea accessories there.  Tickets are $20 and the first 1500 people will be getting goody bags.  For more information, go to www.CoffeeandTeaFestival.com  and www.teabloggers.com

It is a cold, sort of ugly day today, but I am warm and the woods are lovely - all peachy apricot from the sugar maples.  The ground is golden from the Pine tree needle drop and lots of small birds are at the feeders.  It is going to be abit of a race among the trees on the hills for the greenest ones to turn color before the others lose their leaves.  A nice long colorful fall, just my cup of tea.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Wonderful World Tea East

World Tea Expo - I had such a great time.  I drank enough tea to swish as I walked, I wore out my back and my feet and I talked with some of the very nicest people.  I came home with a number of samples or teas I purchased and over the coming days, I will report on most of them. 

What impressed me the most - the interest, kindness and willingness to talk and share tea without pressure to buy or write about them.  These vendors, whether they were tea merchants or accessory merchants, were proud of their wares and eager to share them.  I really only met one who was unnecessarily unpleasant and it was too bad, as her product had a great deal to recommend it.  The well-known folk, like the Harneys, Jane Pettigrew, Nigel Mellican, and James Norwood Pratt were all willing to meet and chat and have their pictures taken and acted as if it were the most wonderful time in the world.  In my experience, that is often rare among big name folk.

I talked to a number of people who attended the classes and the Monday all day tea tasting and they were one and all positive about their experiences.  That was really good to hear.

I had so many wonderful teas, it was like going from mountain top to mountain top.  There was a small company that has just started marketing tea flavored ice cream, Tea.Rrific Ice Cream Company, www.tearrificicecream.com that is just absolutely exquisite.  They had 5 kinds there - Chamomile, Chunky London Mist, London Mist, Masala Chai and Ginger Matcha.  I tried them all and was so very, very impressed.  The London Mist is Earl Grey and the Chunky one has chocolate flakes and pecans added.  The others you can figure out on your own.  They are smooth, rich tasting and the owners have done a tea-rrific job of blending them just about perfectly, with the tea flavors evident, but not so much that they ruin the ice cream.   To date, they are only available in the NY City, Long Island and lower Hudson Valley areas, but I sure do hope they soon spread to other locations.  I will be waiting, spoon in hand.

In all fairness, I have to say there were some problems at WTE, but I am concentrating on the good stuff.

Stay tuned for some more wonderful WTE writings.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Festivals, Cranberries and Pumpkins

Two fruits we think of in the fall are cranberries and pumpkins.  One way to include them in our tea rituals is in scones.  There are many recipes on line for both of these tasty fruits.  But you can also include them in your tea.  Next time you are brewing a pot of black tea, put in a small handful of dried, sweetened cranberries.  They are so tart, I don't think regular cranberries would be too tasty.  However, you could make a smoothy, using fresh cranberries, tea, vanilla Greek yogurt, and enough sugar to taste.  Whiz it up until the cranberries are well and truly pulverized.  You might want to add some orange juice, too.

Try adding some pumpkin pie spice to your tea.  You can also make a pumpkin tea smoothie with perhaps 2 cups chai tea, a small container of vanilla yogurt, about 1/4 cup of canned pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, a bit of sugar.  If you are making pumpkin bread or muffins, try grinding some chai tea  and add it along with the dry ingredients.

You folks in the Northwest are having a great week, tea wise.  Oct 1-2 is the Tea Festival Portland.   Go to http://teafestpdx.com for more information.  In the Lan Su Chinese Garden (also in Portland, OR) is a month long celebration of The Essence of Tea.  Seattle is home to the Northwest Tea Festival, sponsered by the Pugent Sound Tea Education Association.  This will be held Oct 6-7.  Please go to www.nwteafestival.com for more information.

Both of these look like wonderful events.  Speaking of which, I am going to our own World Tea East, Tues and Wed in Philadelphia.  This is geared more toward businesses, but I am sure I will find plenty there to experience, from tea infused ice cream to a whole raft of award winning teas.  I will definitely be filling you all in when I get back!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Autumn Has Arrived

It is indeed well and truly and officially Fall.  The wind can no longer sneak through the trees, blowing and stirring the leaves silently.  Now they rustle and rattle or susurate as the tidal waves on the shore.  The sound announces that summer is scurrying off.  Receiving my box of fall bulbs to plant was another pretty clear indication.  That gay deceiver of a garden catalog has done it again!

I must say that tea catalogs have the same effect and here I am with too much tea and too many bulbs to plant.  However, to quote Edna St. Vincent Millay "But ah my foes and Oh my friends, they give a lovely light".  I am broadly interpreting light as something that illuminates and both tea and flowers can do so, especially in the early spring, when our eyes long for color or if we find ourselves in a doldrum and tea is there to lift (illumine)our spirits.

My tea today comes from Tea Vivre.  It is Fengping Dragon Pearl Black Tea.  It smells of forest floor, oaken wine barrels and leather.  The 1/2 inch balls are woven together out of long leaves of brown and tan and black.  I personally am delighted when tea appears in these different forms and marvel at their tiny perfection.  The suggested brew is for 1-2 minutes with boiling water.  The packet doesn't say, but about 1 ball or perhaps two is what I use per cup.  The brewing tea has that delightful fresh air aroma, coupled with  woodsy/leathery hints.  This carries forward into the cup, which is a very gentle brew that carries autumn with it; acorns and oak trees, dry leaves on the forest floor.  It is all quite subtle.  One of the nice things about this tea is you can do a second wash, which I did.  I used about half the water and twice the time and it tasted pretty much like the first cup, a gentle reminder of the year's drawing in on itself.

I have received my press pass to World Tea East and I am so excited!  Really, I can hardly wait.  I was going to go last year, but we had the flood and couldn't get off our hill for about 4 days just when I was to leave.

My, I have a rare treat this morning - 2 small herds of deer, a buck and three does and a buck and 2 does.  The bucks have only small racks, so I would guess they are only a year or two old.  Our backyards are a safe passage from the big meadow to the big woods.  Sounds a bit like Winnie the Pooh, doesn't it?

See what awaits us - snow, beautiful snow.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Have a marshmallow, my dear

I had such a great birthday, lovely cards and cupcakes at our bookstudy in the morning and dinner and champagne with old and very dear friends, one of whom is also a cancer survivor.  We went to our favorite Thai restaurant.  They make the best coconut soup I have ever had and I swear it keeps getting better, just so flavorful and it beats mine.  I think mine is good, but theirs is exquisite.  No tea, just bubbly!

When I was on my way into town today I spied a lovely arrangement of golden rod, white wild astors and brilliant orange and yellow touch-me-nots - nice going, Ma Nature.  Thankfully. some trees are beginning to actually get color - I was really afraid we would have a brown fall.

I made a huge pot of tomato soup today - we had so many they were going bad and I wasn't in the mood to actually can them and the freezer was full.  It's wonderful.  I put a bit of cinnamon and clove in it and it just tastes warm and comforting.

I am so stuck in a rut, tea wise, I've been having nothing but that lovely, unknown Assam.  It's not that I don't have a lot to choose from, I do, but a lot of them are flavored and I am not in the mood for them, at all.  I really like my tea plain, as they have their own charm and nuances, some are the best things I have ever drunk, why spoil them with things that often taste like chemicals or are so flavored, you don't even know they are made with tea.  I was reading about one, with a lot of additions, which billed itself as a white tea.  If you have ever drunk white teas, you know their flavor is very delicate.  It simply cannot stand up to a lot  of flavoring.  To add insult to injury, it was also mixed with black tea, the second ingredient.  I ask you, who are we kidding?

Following on that, in last week's NY Times magazine there was an article on flavored marshmallows.  Are you ready?  The list includes pretzels and beer, creamsicle, salty watermelon, horseradish, margarita, chocolate chipolte, turkey gravy and tomato.  If this does indeed float your boat, look for them at Mitchmallows in NYC.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lady Londonderry Comes To Tea With Earl Grey

Today is a very special day for me.  It is my birthday, but it is really special because I am alive to celebrate it!  Today is my 5 year cancer survivor's day!  All of you who are survivors or know survivors, raise your cups with me in a grand salute to life!  "To Life, to Life, L'Chaim:  L'Chaim, L'Chaim, to Life," to quote Tevya in A Fiddler on the Roof.  It is wonderful to be alive, to see and smell and taste and feel all the things that make up my life.  Thank you, Father for this time.

Part of my celebration, is, of course, tea.  I am trying something new that comes highly recommended by a tea friend, Marise, from Montreal, Quebec.  It is from Davids Tea and in English it is The Garden of Earl Grey.  It has strawberries along with the bergamot and some blue and yellow flower petals - quite lovely.  It smells very nice, too, with both the strawberries and the citrus of the bergamot front and center!  For me, it is like a cross between Lady Londonderry and the Earl.  I brewed it a bit too long - about 5.5 minutes, so there's a bit of an edge to it, but I put some milk in it and voila! that tamed it.  It really is a very good tea and would be quite perfect with scones and jam, cookies, birthday cake, lots of lovely things.

An old covered bridge in my family's hometown of Darstetten, Bern, Switzerland.

It is sunny and the perfect temperature today.  I am giving my friends the rest of my basil.  I just can't bear to do anymore with it.  It has been wonderfu, though and my freezer is stuffed and ready to produce summer in winter now.

The fall squashes are appearing.  Last night I mixed a delicata with an acorn, added a little butter and oh my, what wonderful stuff; sweet, spicey, almost a touch of lemon, but I had added nothing.  I had some plain Earl Grey with supper and the two were just perfect together.  I saw some of the huge hubbards and remember how my grandmother "peeled" them by dropping them on the sidewalk until they broke enough to fit the pieces in the oven.  She did a lot of creative things

Monday, September 17, 2012

Update on World Tea East

World Tea East is going to be very exciting this year, with a multitude of excellent classes from top-notch tea pros and so many exhibitors!  One of the really neat things is that all the finest teas, tea accessories and specialty tea items that won this year's competitions will be showcased.  Won't it be fun to see and hopefully  taste what's on the cutting edge in the tea world?  There will be things like a BUNN at home tea and coffee maker, tea infused ice cream, Northwest Glass's fine Euro cup and saucer, exquisite packaging winners, such as Vintage Tea Works, just for starters.  And, of course, lots of teas to taste.  I hope you have all made plans to attend.  If you get tired of tea, there is Philadelphia to visit, as well.  Hop on a purple bus and hit the highlights.

You've probably all heard of the Slow Food Movement, well Italy has founded a Slow Tea Movement, dedicated to preserving tea cultures around the world, as well as working to improve the working conditions  on tea estates, including biodiversity.  Raise your teacups to them!  Did you know that there is also an Italian Association for Tea Culture?  Check it out at www.aictea.it

I was making a salad that called for grilled red peppers I didn't have and I wanted that smokey flavor - what to do?   Lapsang Souchong to the rescue!  I ground some up and added it to the dressing until I liked it - carefully, of course.  Yum.  It's also wonderful in a rub for grilled meats.  Oh yes, you can drink it, too. 

In fact, I think that is what I will have today, since I have a lot of it and it is again cool.  All I need to do is decide which one.  I am using a mix of Traditional and Superior, as there is not enough of either for more than a cup.  They are both from Life in Teacup.  Both come in small red sample packets, the traditional a dull, somewhat plain red, the superior in a highly decorated shiny foil.  The traditional is darker, with smaller leaves and  heavily smoked.  The superior one has longer, more twisted leaves and the barest hint of smoke overlying a leather/woodsy aroma.  I brewed them at 212 degrees for 3.5 minutes.  To do them justice, I know I should have brewed them separately and compared them, but I am impatient today.

The taste is so different from what I expected.  It is very smooth and delicate, with only the barest whisper of smoke.  The body is somewhat thin.  There are hints of vegetativeness about it and all in all it is a lovely tea.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Trekking Along

Oh yes, Autumn is definitely here.  I went out for the mail and there it was, that first whiff of dying vegetation, ripe acorns and wild asters!  Summer simply smells differntly.  Our days may be hot, but the nights are cool and getting cooler - perfect for good sleeping.  Today, however, is quite cool, perfect for tea, for long walks, for garden clean-up.

My tea is from the tea trekker, Jingdong Wuliang Golden Threads from Yunnan Province, China.  It is a fluffy tea, with long thin twisted leaves and an ample amount of golden bud.  It has a fine aroma of hay, silage and a whiff of citrus.  I brewed it about 200 degrees for nearly 5 minutes.  As it was brewing, the scent shifted somewhat into leather and chestnut, with touches of the other.  This is a very dark amber tea, shading towards old gold at the edges.  It seems to evoke a definitrly autumnal mood

The taste is on the autumnal side as well, with some chestnut and hay, but there is some acorn and oak wine barrel there as well.  A tiny bit of cream serves to round it out, if you are so inclined, but I am very happy with it straight.

I have brought all my plants in except one.  Most are not happy with temperatures in the 30's and I don't feel like doing the old move them in, move them out dance as temperatures and sunlight fluctuate.  The hibiscus are in bud, with some red, apricot and deep red flowers already blooming.  They are such rewarding plants - feed them, water them and your flowers are bountiful and beautiful.

I bought myself the Kindle that was on sale quite cheaply and have discovered a huge list of books on tea, many of them very inexpensive.  Oh dear, time to crank up the old will or perhaps I should say, won't power.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Earl Goes Cherry Picking

I am realizing how much I enjoy early morning and late evening light.  In the morning, the woods in back are lit with gold backed by dark green and black.  Just before sundown it is the reverse, with the tracery of black trees against the gold and bright green behind them.  It is always interesting to watch the morning fog dissipate and that which seemed almost spectral become solid and spring into the day.

This has led me to think of other things I've grown to appreciate and one of these, which gives me great pleasure is our afternoon tea time.  It is so satisfying to my senses to take a quiet break in the day with my husband.  We have a small treat, share a pot of tea, and just relax.  Then there is the tea.  It is a never ending parade of aromas and tastes, much loved by one such as I who so enjoys the new and different.  I love to read about tea cultures in other countries.  Sometimes they seem quite alien to me, but we are all bound together by our love for tea.  But I regard alien as good, variety and difference is what makes the world interesting.  Can you imagine what it would be like to only have 1 tree, 1 flower, 1 animal, 1 style of person?  Booooring!

I am trying another Earl Grey today.  This one comes from the Japanese company, Lupicia.  The tea base is Keemun, which comes from China.  Bergamot is Italian, so I am getting quite the international tour today.  When I opened the packet, there was the lovely flower/citrus aroma, along with an unmistakable hint of cherry.  I thought I was imagining it, but it is still there through the brewing and on into the taste.  It's faint, but it does add a nice fillip to the bergamot, which is more on the flowery side this time.  I brewed this for only 3 minutes, per suggestions and the bergamot is pretty strong.  But it is all very tasty and I quite like it.

I noticed just yesterday that there are swathes of color through the trees on the hills behind us.  I want to call it gold, but it is closer to tan.  We've not seen many geese this summer, but now they are appearing, great flocks of them, heading south.  Usually there is enough water around here that they hang around, but this year our ponds are pretty dried up, enough so the water lilies never bloomed but only curled up their leaves and turned brown.  The barn swallows, which decorated the telephone wires have quietly left as well and I've not seen a hummingbird for a week.

Fall is a quiet time, sometimes a time for reflection, some sadness that summer is ending and soon we'll have to hunker down for winter.  I am so hoping for snow - we had so little last year, that I am ready for big snows.  My tomatoes all have late blight, but this year I don't mind, as I am sick of them.  I know, bad attitude, but there it is.  I am ready for apples and have apple sauce cooking, the wonderful aroma is filling the house.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Have Some Pie, Leave The Tea

A perfect day for tea - cool and rainy.  I am so happy to see this weather.  My only difficulty is choosing a tea.  If only all my decisions were so hard - between 2 good things!  Hmm, I have some Adagio Earl Grey Lavender.  It has what it says plus orange peels, vanilla, blue cornflowers and creme flavoring.  Hmm, too bad I made it before I read it, as I am now predisposed to not like it.  It is pretty with the blue and lavender flowers and the bits of orange peel.  It does smell very odd however, like the bergamot and orange peel are fighting each other.  The lavender seems to have gotten lost.

However, the real test is the taste, which I am eagerly (?!) awaiting.  I can't say I care for the smell of the brewed tea.   Well, here goes - first sip - orange peel and chemicals.  But I press on for your sakes, dear readers.  My tongue is feeling like a bunch of little tiny needles are poking it and all I can still taste is orange peel and fake vanilla.  I put some cream in it and that has helped, but after about 1/3 of my cup, I have to say I think it it is horrible and the Earl will definitely not be leaving his calling card here!   I am going to make myself some of that lovely unknown Assam.  Himself says he doesn't mind it and "It's interesting".  He will have my share.

I found a really good recipe that would be a lovely savory for a tea.  It makes use of some of those tomatoes that are flooding our gardens.  It came from a small Upstate New York garden magazine I can't remember the name of.  It is delicious!  I got rave reviews when I served it.

Fresh Tomato Pie  
Oven at 400 degrees.

Core and slice about 4-5 medium to large ripe tomatoes, drain on several layers of paper towels for 15-20 minutes or more.

Make a pie crust for a 9" pie, prick it and bake for about 8 minutes  (until a bit dry and pale tan).

Turn the oven down to 350 when you take it out.

Spread the crust with 2 Tablespoons of Dijon mustard.

Layer the tomatoes in the crust, sprinkling only with  pepper.

Mix  3/4 cup of mayonnaise mixed with 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, spread on top of the tomatoes.

Bake about 1/2-3/4 hour.  You probably will need to cover the top with foil for the last half.
Cool and serve at room temperature.

Note: It called for 8 ounces of grated cheddar cheese under the mayo mix, but I thought that was too much, so I left it out.  This way is more delicate and it is very pretty when you slice it.  plus, you can make it the day before, if you are using a crust that resists sogginess, or you can brush the crust with beaten egg white before you put it in the oven.  Actually, I think the mustard also serves that function.

My lavender bed really took off this summer.  I am so pleased, because it is a brand-new bed and this was a tough summer.  I got a few flowers, which are drying, but just this week the plants were big enough to give off the lovely, heady scent of lavender as we go by.  Next summer, with the lavender, alyssum, day lilies, and roses, our noses will be in heaven.  I try to plant as many scented flowers and herbs as I can, so there is something nice wafting around the garden all season.

A golden High Gothic Altar panel in the Liebfraukirche (Dear or Beloved Lady's Church) along the Rhine in Germany.  I do like Gothic in all it's soaring pointiness.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Autumnal Teas

Ah yes, summer is fading and fall is coming in.  The night insects are different, louder and more insistent.  Crickets  are making a lot of noise and soon, I expect one or two to come in.  The huge yellow striped garden spiders, the Black and Yellow Argiope, are weaving their nets over everything.  They are harmless unless seriously threatened and quite beautiful.  Ragweed and golden rod are more heavily blooming than I remember seeing.  Not good for those allergic to ragweed, like my poor husband.  Some poor unfortunates are also allergic to golden rod, which is very rare, so they are suffering a double whammy.

I guess it is time to think of fall teas.  I am not a fan of flavored teas, but I know many of you are.  Harney's has African Autumn, a blend of Rooibos, Cranberry and Orange.  They also have Cranberry Autumn and Boston Teas.  If you prefer spicier offerings, they have Cinnamon Spice and Indian Spice.  The only one I have had is Cranberry Autumn and I thought it was very good.

Simpson and Vail has a really nice one, Nutcracker, with chocolate, mint, cinnamon, cranberries and orange.  Good enough to eat?  Here's one that sounds like it - Pumpkin Pie Black Tea.  I really prefer my pie on the side, with some cheddar or ice cream.  If cranberries are your thing, you're in luck here, as they have 4 or 5 teas with cranberries in them.  To go with, there are a lot of scones, cookies and spreads with an autumn theme.

Celestial Seasonings has come out with Sweet Harvest Pumpkin, in addition to it's Christmas teas.  Gingerbread Spice is one that would be tasty now if  you prefer  no caffeine.  You can buy these on line if you are afraid of not catching them in the grocery stores,  I know their shelf life is really short as the holidays get closer.  Just go to their site - www.celestialseasonings.com and order.

Personally, what I am waiting for are the autumnal Darjeelings to arrive, as they are my favorites.  They are somewhat heartier than the earlier ones and I like them.   The autumnal Oolongs from Taiwan are teas I've not tried and I am intending to do that this year.

What are some of the autumnal teas you like?

Some more early masonry, these from a monastery garden and probably several hundred years older than the High Gothic of the last blog.  Simple is also beautiful.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Little Bit Of This...

If you have a moment this Friday and Saturday, I invite you to celebrate with my village, Owego, NY and me.  We are celebrating our survival of the Sept 7/8, 2011 flood that devastated our town.  We are battered, some of us are broken, but most of us are still here and we remember the kindness of strangers who became family.  We know what it is to pull together and help each other.  We want to celebrate not only that we did survive, but  that we are going to thrive once again.  Owego has the same spirit as that little engine that could in the old children's story - "I think I can, I think I can, ...I know I can , I know I can,...I knew I could, I knew I could" as it climbs an impossibly high hill out of destruction.  We have a long way to go, but we're moving up.

The little tufted titmice, the nuthatches and the finches are all so pretty and sing so sweetly instead of jarring me out of my chair with raucous cries.  However, the crows have been busy, I think they are preparing for a fall convention.

Did you know the Coffee and Tea Festival will be in Atlantic City on November 3 and 4?  Now you do.  For more info, go to www.CoffeeandTeaFestival.com

Meanwhile, don't forget World Tea East in Philadelphia, October 2-3.  Joe Simrany, the long-term president of the Tea Association of the USA will be receiving the Cha Jing lifetime achievement award for service and leadership to the industry.  Joe has been a tireless worker in promoting tea.  He is the second recipient of this award.  Lots of good drinking and networking at both events!

It's a nice soft gray outside today.  There's a breeze and it is pleasant.  I am having a pot of smooth Gorreana Orange Pekoe Tea.  I have reviewed this before, but I was sent some in a tea swap, so I can appreciate it anew.  Gorreana comes from a small island off the coast of Portugal.  All of their teas that I have tried I have really liked.

Indie Tea www.indietea.com has come out with some tasty sounding tea based spice rubs and salts, as well as some creative new tea blends such as Ride Off Into A Moroccan Sunset.  Check them out.  Each month they give part of the proceeds to a different charity - more bang for your tea buck.  Many tea companies, such as Ajiri and Harneys also make charitable donations.

A bit of Gothic eye candy, complete with saint.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Changes, Changes

Summer is ending.  While I don't look forward to the gray of winter, I am so tired of unrelenting heat, drought and sun.  The annuals are giving up, there are huge flocks of birds wheeling in the air, the deer are beginning to get brown.  Change is in the air.  The light is different, having a more golden cast and the sun is going down noticeably sooner.  Nights are cool and we can open all the windows and gulp in the refreshing air and breezes.  It's even supposed to rain this week.  It will be lovely to have brooks again.

Tea wise, this means a return to more pots of tea, rather than pitchers.  I saved so many teas for ice tea this year that I didn't get through them all, in spite of the inspiration of so much heat and the need for a cooling quaff.

I happened to be in one of our larger grocery stores and was really impressed by how great a variety of tea they had, including a section of organics and good quality bottled tea.  They didn't have much in the way of loose tea except some Twinings  and one other brand.  I couldn't really expect that, given the town they are in.  Upstate towns are not generally on the cutting edge, although that seems to be changing.

Today I am going to work in the garden and then I shall have a pot of tea and admire my autumn clematis, which is just coming in to sweet scented white bloom.  It didn't grow too well this year - too hot and dry - the gardener's mantra for the summer, but what there is is quite lovely.

Later - As I was out having tea and sniffing the air, a mama turkey and her poult came by and Bert the brave kitty tried to stalk it.  He was ignored.  Then a small herd of about 8-10 deer came out of the back woods, headed for the front woods.  There were 3 of this year's fawns - quite grown, but still in redcoats and 5-7 adults, all dressed in brown.  The young ones did not know what to do about the turkeys, but the birds just cocked a royal snook and went on.

My tea was Earl Gray from Steven Smith.  I have been hearing a lot about him lately, so I was eager to try the tea.  The aroma was wonderful a really luscious bergamot, juicy, flowery, sweet, but not a bit cloying.   Sadly, the flavor did not live up to it.  It was somewhat flat and not nearly strong enough.  The problem maybe it was a teabag and my cup was large.  However, I have another one and I will try it in a smaller cup.

IT'S RAINING - a lovely, slow soaking rain!  Thank you, Lord.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Real Simple Teas

I know that many of you read Real Simple Magazine.  I do.  Recently they picked some ready to drink iced teas as their favorites and here they are:

Whether you like your brew crisp and thirst-quenching or sweet and silky, one of these iced tea winners—chosen by Real Simple magazine from 74 contenders—will suit you to a tea.
Best Lightly Sweetened: Tazo Organic Iced Black Tea
Brisk, flavorful, and satisfying, this crowd-pleaser comes from—surprise!—the java aficionados at Starbucks (which also owns Tazo).
Best “Sweet”:  Sweet Leaf Organic Sweet Tea
This iconic southern take on tea is strong and sugary but never cloying. Happily, you don’t need to be below the Mason-Dixon Line to enjoy it: Just head to the grocery store.
Best Unsweetened:  Tejava Unsweetened Black Tea 
Unsweetened teas can be harsh and tannic. But not this soft, smoky favorite made with hand-picked leaves from Indonesia.
Best Lemon:  Pure Leaf Iced Tea With Lemon
Like your tea with a little pucker? Give this icy refresher a try. Fresh and tangy, it stops just this side of tart, thanks to a welcome dash of sugar.
Best Peach: Snapple Peach Tea 
Lush, juicy fruit flavor elevates this black- and green tea blend far above the syrupy, candy-like competition. Make it your new convenience-store go-to.
Best Green:  Honest Tea Classic Green Tea
Sure, it’s healthy—courtesy of all those antioxidants. But it’s also delicious: Think vibrant notes of green apple and mango.

This is all very nice and I have tried some of these myself, but I wish they had done more with loos-leaf teas.  Maybe we could suggest that for sometimes in the fall or winter!  I would have to quibble with the best peach.  It really tastes nothing of tea and is heavily chemical tasting.  Generally if I don't think of them as tea, they're ok.

What do you think of their selections?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Burlap Dancing Tea

It is foggy this morning.  In fact, it has been foggy almost many mornings this month.  Supposedly, weather lore has it that the number of foggy mornings in August is the number of snow storms you'll have in the winter. Actually, I just got an email from someone who really keeps track and it's only been 12.  The first winter we were here, that was right on target.  Last year we didn't have much fog and almost no snow.  We'll see how this coming winter is.  We really could use the snow, our ground is very dry.  I am hoping for a beautiful winter as we are going to have a brown fall.  Many of the trees are losing their leaves already and they're just brown - too little rain. We haven't had a really pretty fall in quite a while.

Tea wise, that means I can look forward to some cozy afternoons with a good book and a great pot of tea by my side.  Choosing one will be the problem, as there are so many I like.  As I continue to try different teas to review, my favorites list keeps changing.  It also gets altered by how my favorite tea turned out this year, given the weather in its garden.  I'm not too taken with this year's Yunnans, for instance and the Keemuns seem to be lacking a certain burgundian spark.

Today I am having an Assam - Queen Namsang from Simpson & Vail.  It is last year's harvest from the autumn, and comes from the Rani Estate, all of 157 feet above sea level.  It is organic.  The dry leaves are very black and quite small.  They give off a faint, almost apricot aroma..  I brewed it for 3 minutes with boiling water.

We often think of green tea as dancing as it brews, but I must say, this black is practically doing a jig!  It is really fascinating to watch tea leaves unfurl.

The brewing tea smells a bit like burlap, of all things!  But wait, there's also an aroma of maple/honey candy.  Hmm.  One thing I like about tea is that once you think you have all the scents down pat, along comes a new combination.  That happens with the taste as well.  I can't quite pin this one down.  It is something like sarsaparilla, something like little kids white paste with a trace of nut and a bit of sweet.  I put a bit of cream in it and it rounds out the flavor amazingly and brings out the sweetness.  A good, everyday tea, but nothing really special.

Isn't that a cool tree?  Reminds me vaguely of the flattish tops of tea bushes, ready for plucking.  Shorter than this, of course.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Marlena and the Tea of Siam

My friend Tommy the Toadman sent me some lovely tea in an exchange.  It is from the Siam Tee Shop, www.siam-tee.de.  The name is quite long, DMS Oolong Nr. 12 Jin Xuan Blue Pearls.  It comes from North Thailand.  The original plants were from the Ali Shan region of Taiwan and found a home similar enough in Thailand to settle in and produce some good teas.  Thailand has not been a big contender in the tea market, but if this tea is typical, they are small but mighty!

The small hand-rolled balls of tea are indeed vaguely blueish in color and give off a faint grassy, herbal aroma.  I brewed it for 2 minutes, after rinsing it.  At first, I just thought it smelled grassy and maybe a bit floral and then there seemed to be some depth to it.  It is mostly orchid tasting, with a few sharp points to keep the interest going.  It seems to be an alluring tea, one that keeps drawing you back when you think you're done.

The unfurled leaves were smaller than I expected, even on the second brew, when they were completely unrolled.  The orchid scent is much stronger this time.  It also carries a sweet note that wasn't there before, perhaps a touch of sugar cookie.  The taste is quite different, however.  There are now metallic hints around the orchid note, but only sometimes.  Other sips are pure floral.  Definitely a tea that keeps you going back for more!

Thanks, Tommy

Ya know, I can see why blue jays have such a bad rep.  There are a few here I would like to throw to Siberia - always with the loudmouth!  It's the young ones, probably trying to make their mark on the world.  They can't seem to distinguish between the dangerous cats - Bert and Ernie and the ones who couldn't possibly stir themselves to attack.  But I might!   If Sarah and Andy do wake up, they just look at them and go back to sleep.

An Imperial robe of the Hapsburgs.  Being an emperor might have its perks, but can you imagine having to wear something coated with gold and jewels - hot and heavy and you couldn't twitch or scratch.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

You Put The Lime In The Coconut

At least a few of you will remember that old Calypso song.  Many tropical areas mix the two because they go so well together, smooth sweet coconut, offset by the tartness of the lime.  My tea today is a derivative of that old blend  - Key Lime Colada Tea from the Eastern Shore Tea Company, "Teas flavored with imagination."  (Just as a little side bar, coconuts are the largest seeds in the world and take 2 years or more to sprout and begin forming a tree. That's right, the coconut, the whole thing, is the seed.)

This tea comes in individual foil bags, which serves to keep it fresh.  I got mine at Wegman's, but you can also access them on line at www.EasternShoreTea.com where they come bag-free, and either buy directly from them or find a store near you.

The bags are pretty small, tagless and stringless.  They do smell wonderful, of both their fruits.  I used boiling water and a five minute brew, at their suggestion.  They also suggest complimenting the cup with a "large yacht, lime slice"  I can do the latter, the former will have to wait until I marry a millionaire.  The lime slice would be a good idea, as the coconut is very much to the front and almost cloying in its sweetness.  It almost feels oily, although it isn't.  The flavor lingers in your mouth in a way I can't decide is pleasant or not. For me, I felt the balance of flavors was off and I would have preferred more lime.

We are going to an event today, "Sundaes at the Farm".  This is sponsored by the Co-operative Extension of Tioga County. It is a yearly event to showcase local farms to get people more in touch with where their food originates.  There will be coffee, but no tea, ah well.  There will, however, be many local foods and many calves to pet.  Good for this ole farm girl's spirit, and there are free sundaes.

This huge beautiful bowl is carved from one piece of alabaster.  It is nearly 3 feet across and was owned by the royal family of the Austro-Hungary Empire, which ended with WWI.

Friday, August 17, 2012

News From The Tea World

Celebrate!  The Japanese teas coming from Shizuoka Prefecture, the main tea growing area, has been declared radiation free, so you can feel free to order away from this year's crop.  You can also be reassured that all teas are again tested before they enter this country for sale.  Any reputable company will be more than happy to answer any and all questions you have along this line.

World Tea News is reporting that Fair Trade sales have grown by over 8% this year.  I don't know all the ins and outs of Fair Trade, but on the whole, I believe is a step forward for tea and tea workers, as they try to improve the workers lot and the way tea is grown and processed, which in the long run will benefit all of us.

Archaeologists have discovered the residue of a drink made from a holly bush and containing theobromines - found in tea - in an area near St. Louis.  If you remember, I wrote about this holly, Yaupon Ilex vomitora, a few months ago.  They have dated the site to about 1050 AD.  The name indicates its use, although the vomiting was self-induced.

Canada has released information on 100 teas that it tested for the presence of pesticides and heavy metals.  Although small trace amounts were found in some, they were too small to create any sort of problem for people drinking tea.  I still prefer organic, if I can get it.

Tea Champions

The North American Tea Championship winners have been announced for the Spring 2012 harvest and here they and here they are.  The list goes company, name of the tea and category.

Chado-En DBA The Taste of Tea, Sakura Karigane Organic - Blended Green Tea

Teasource, Jasmine Silver Needle - Blended White Tea

Qtrade Teas & Herbs, Ceylon Orange Pekoe - Ceylon

Florapharm Tea USA LP, Organic Darjeeling "Jungpana" Wonder Muscatel - Darjeeling

International Tea Importers, Organic Pu-erh Tea - Dark Puer

Black Tusk Trading Co. Ltd, West Lake Dragonwell (Pre Qing Ming) - Dragonwell

Florapharm Tea USA LP, "Summer Passion" - Flavored Fruit Blends

Tea & Beyond Llc Dba Teagschwendner, Asian Pear - Flavored Green Tea

Dethlefsen & Balk Inc., Sunny Herbs No. 22948 - Flavored Herbal Blends

Qtrade Teas & Herbs, Bollywood Mango - Flavored White Tea

Silk Road Teas, Jinggu Grade One Mao Cha - Green Puer

Sipping Streams Tea Company, Imperial Matcha - Matcha

Osulloc, Osulloc Illohyang - Pan-Fired Green Tea

World of Tea - Le monde du thé Sencha, Maroyaka - Sencha

Qtrade Teas & Herbs, Verdant Summer - Steamed Green Tea

Marketspice, Six-Herb - Unflavored Herbal Blends

Teas Etc, Bai Mu Dan Superior Organic - White Tea

How many of them have you had?  I hate to admit it, but I haven't had any of them - best get to work and order some.