Friday, June 22, 2012

Splish, Splash, I Was Having A Slush

I am getting ready to leave for vacation tomorrow.  Of course, I had to have an emergency tooth extraction, which ate up 2 days and it has been hot enough to fry eggs on the grass.  Thank God for ice tea.  Mine has been from DeVos Tea,  .  It is Floral Green.  I put some in a tea sock, poured cold water over it in a glass pitcher and stuck it in the fridge for about 5 hours and voila! ice tea.  It is light and full of delicate floral taste and aroma, with a hint of vegetal.  So refreshing!

I also made a green tea slushy with some green tea, semi-frozen honeydew and simple syrup, quickly swirled together with some ice and some mint.  Yum, yum.  I am going to try cantalope with one of the fruity Oolongs.  At the moment, strawberries with a Darjeeling sounds good, too.

This is an orange tree.  Not just any orange tree, mind you, but one growing up through the floor of a second story restaurant in Sorrento, Italy.  I loved this eatery.  It is where I first discovered the wonders of roasted or grilled veggies.  I could have eaten just them every night we were there.

The wild orange daylilies are blooming and there is a great wide swath of them out on the main road. I am very fond of them.  My first daylily has bloomed, a lovely pale apricot.  I sprayed all of them with anti-deer spray.  Actually, a lot of my perennials are beginning to bloom, so our door yard is looking quite nice.  I have mixed in a number of herbs, as they can be quite attractive and give me lots of material for making herbal vinegars and oils.  My best one to date has been orange mint in white balsamic.  Delicate, sweet and delish!

See you again around July 1st.  The time is going too fast!

Monday, June 18, 2012

One of Chicago's Best

Gosh, I hadn't realized it's been over a week since I last wrote.  I have been on an anti-new tea kick for some reason and some fine combination of lazy and doing too much.  However, I got some new teas in the mail and that has inspired me.  Today's is a Keemun "A" from the Chicago Tea Garden.  Sadly, they are closing, so they haven't got a lot of tea left.  It is all on sale, however.

The tea smelled lovely in the packet - a deep wineyness combined with a very nice good tobacco aroma.  I brewed it for 4 minutes with water just off the boil.  Now it has that lovely deep wine aroma coupled with something that reminds me of the smell of washing milking implements.  If you don't know, I grew up on a dairy farm and many of my "scent references" come from that time.  Hmmm, lovely tea taste that is very close to the aroma.  This is one fine cup of tea.  There's a bit of forest wood in it as well as the wine and tobacco, with some spice towards the end.  Excellent, excellent.

We are going on vacation on Sat. and so now I am trying to do all those things I should have done last week while I was admiring a rose garden and learning about old and antique roses.  My Master Gardener group went to see my friend Leon's rose nursery and we learned a lot.  Did you know there is a species of rose that grows up at the arctic circle?  Blows my mind.  I wish I could have more here, but between the deer and the soil, I guess three is my limit.  The deer ate off all the blooms on my newest rose last night.  See the gardener swear and get out the deer spray!

Did you know that woodpeckers like Hummingbird feeders and will drink the sugar water?  I heard it from 2 independent sources.  The downys, the hairys and the red-bellied are the culprits.  They are the three smallest here in the northeast, although the bill on the red-bellied isn't any too tiny.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Traditional Tea

It is dark and grim this morning,  The trees are dripping with rain.  The fur persons have run out and come in with wet tails they drag across my legs and then give me a wondering look as I yelp and try to jump away.  Then, of course, they become solicitous, climbing on me to see what is the matter so that now I can be not only wet and cold, but grubby as well, from their muddy paws.  Cats!

All is not lost, however, as I have 4 new teas to try from Mark T. Wendell, who carries my all time favorite Hu Kwa  Lapsang Souchong.  They also carry several British tea company’s wares as well as some from Japan and China.  Today’s offering is from Williamson Tea, “Tea farmers since 1869”.  I am having English Traditional Afternoon Fine Tea.  The tea is grown using sustainable methods and their claim is that they ensure their workers labor in good conditions and earn a decent living.  Already, I am prejudiced in their favor.

The dry leaves are an attractive mix of browns and blacks and they have a delightful winey, oak barrel, tobacco scent, with a twist of something approaching citrus at the end.  I brewed it for 3.5 minutes, even though the tin said 2.  The resulting brew was a lovely golden brown, smelling super fresh.  In many ways this is a simple tea, but it does have a subtle, almost chocolate finish.  It is very slightly winey.  It tastes wonderful and would make an excellent tea for a party, especially for those a bit shy about new teas..  It is equally good with or without cream.  Next time, I will try it with a bit of lemon.

I am having my new favorite tea sandwich - butter and radishes - those very nice French breakfast ones.  Yum!

I have been reading a new book on raising herbs,  Homegrown Herbs by Tammi Hartung.   In it there are numerous charts, one of which lists herbs that can be used for tea.  They are agastache, anise hyssop, catnip chamomile, coyote mint, Echinacea, fennel, ginger, lemon balm, lemon grass, lemon verbena, licorice, Mexican oregano, nettle, oats, passionflower, pennyroyal, peppermint, red clover, spearmint, stevia, thyme, vervain and blue vervain, and violets.  Before you run right out and start making tisanes with these, make sure you read up on them, as some must be used with great care.  I never knew there were so many and some I have never heard of as being edible.  If you are at all interested , this is an excellent book.

I love this old doorway, from 1768.  It is just so, so old.

More gardening today - I may actually have run out of space.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Whatta Ya think, Pink?

Today I was thinking of my friend Pinky.  She was nick named that because of her red hair, and because she hated her given name.  Pinky didn't have a lot of money and was sort of a simple soul, but she was rich in love. She had a generous heart that reached out to many people. She loved to laugh and it was infectious.  We often embarrassed ourselves because something would strike us funny, even a funeral once.  She was the kind of person you could always feel comfortable with because she was honest with you, but never ugly about it.  She was infinitely supportive, even if she thought you were nuts.  Pink loved her cup of tea and we spent countless time with a cup in her kitchen.  It was never fancy, just Tetley's or Red Rose, but there was warmth and laughter and tears and love.  I miss her.

To me, that is one of the joys of tea, the sharing of life in a quiet moment.  Somehow, the accessibility of tea, the simple rituals, make it ideal for stopping for a while to appreciate the good things in your life, friends, love, laughter, critters.  Somehow coffee just isn't the same.  In a way coffee seems to be something you can just grab and not think about, whereas tea requires a bit of attention.  Even tea bags.  After all, you have to make sure it's the right strength and squeeze it out just so.  A cup of tea with a friend lifts the spirits.

So, here's to friends present and gone ahead and endless cups of tea!

A quiet courtyard in a monastery.  Pinky would have loved this, she was a woman on a spiritual journey and lovely places of quietude restored her and drew her to God.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Jasmine Tea and Strawberries

Today I am having Jasmine Tea.  This one hails from Sichuan Province, China, via Life  In Teacup, one of my favorite vendors.  It's a good thing the packet says green tea, as the tightly rolled leaves are almost black.  They have a very delicate scent of the flower and there are a few petals scattered throughout.  I brew it with water about 190 degrees, as Gingko recommends this.  The resulting brew is a strongish yellow and now smells more like paint than jasmine.  Odd.  The flavor is rather odd as well, it just isn't what I think of as "true" jasmine. It is flowery, but not overdone, more a jasmine bass note.  It is really only as it cools that the flavor comes true and then is one of those with a light taste, but a substantial mouth feel.  I am going to put it in the fridge and see how it is as ice tea.  What ho, gang, it is wonderful ice tea!

At the World Tea Expo, George and Kim Jage were presented with a special award by members of the world-wide tea community for their efforts in  founding and continuing to guide the Expo, as well as their efforts in promoting tea drinking.  Raise your tea cups high in gratitude!

Some very sad news is that the Chicago Tea Garden, run by Tony Gebley and purveyor of some very fine teas, is closing.  He is conducting sales of all teas and tea products.  They will be missed.

This has been quite the day for bird watching.  There was both a golden eagle and a bald eagle fishing in the river, as well as a great blue heron in the shallows, also searching for lunch.  A kildeer was flying over the meadow while an American kestral was seated in a tree.  Brown thrashers were all around, always amazing to me with their true rust color.  We now have not 2 but 3 rose-breasted grosbeaks at the feeder. The blander birds are either both female or one is a young'un.  They are such likeable birds, quiet and business like in their feeding..  There are more single turkeys wandering around!  Ours is recognizable by her oddly colored pale grey wings.

The mammal family was equally interesting as I spotted a couple of gray squirrels with golden tails, highlighted with cream.  We haven't seen much of "our" deer, only one or two once in a while.  last year there were 11, counting the fawns.  The clean up from the tornado was so loud and long, I think they went deeper into the woods.  They are lovely critters, but very destructive.

Oh Happy Day!  Local strawberries have arrived.  This first lot is not the best - too much rain and cold this past week, but by Monday, after a warm week, they should be wonderful.  Of course we had strawberry shortcake for dessert and strawberries on the pancakes for breakfast and strawberries plain and this next 2 weeks will be a glorious pig out of berries, including freezer jam.  Sometimes I love summer.  The farmers market opened and one of the people is offering herbal teas.  Sadly, I had run out of funds by then, so I didn't get any, but they'll be there next week and so will I.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Just Peachy

I must have been thirsty when I was at the store.  I saw some Tazo Giant Peach Green Tea in bottles by the register and I just had to try it.  Especially since it was on sale.  I didn't even read the label.  When I got it home, I discovered it had sugar, apple juice, peach juice, natural peach flavor, concentrated peach juice, ginger juice and citric acid.  Goodness.  Oh yes, water and green tea.  Can't forget the tea.

In spite of all that, I stuck it in the fridge and I am now drinking it.  It is very tasty and I like it a lot.  However, I don't know how they can call this green tea.  There simply isn't any tea flavor, except for the very barest whisker, maybe, far off in the distance.  However, if you like peach juice that isn't overly sweet, this is lovely.

I have 2 pitchers of tea in the fridge preparing themselves for the evening.  One is a green from DeVos Tea, Fresh Flower, and the other is a blend of Assams for Himself.

I saw a lovely weaving of wildflowers today, wild phlox, daisies and buttercups had entwined themselves under a wild rose.

I am quite annoyed with the blue jays, they really are doing their greedy best to keep all the goodies I put out for themselves.  A poor little downy was trying to hop on the suet when the jay flew down and landed exactly where he was perched.

We certainly do have a nesting pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks.  They've been here about 2 weeks and they take turns coming to the feeders.  They are quiet birds who just sit and eat for a while and then fly off.  We have lots of goldfinches - this year, the males are so bright, you almost need sun glasses to look at them.

Out Master Gardener plant sale was Saturday and we made over $3,100.  This was all from plants we had donated.  That is amazing!  Worth all the hard work.  The money is used to fund the programs we do for the community, like the community garden, container garden kits, books for kids and so on.  Lots of things.

If you were the Austrio-Hungarian Emperor, you, too, could have a life size memorial like this in your church, including lions.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Summertime, Summertime, Sum, Sum, Summertime

Have you all started making ice tea yet?  I have a stash of teas, some of which I reviewed here, to draw from.  The really strong ones I will make for Himself, I like the milder ones, like the greens and Oolongs.  My method is to put the tea in a tea sock , pour cold water over it and stick it in the fridge for 5-6 or more hours.  Always use a glass pitcher and put plastic wrap over it so it doesn't absorb "fridge flavors"

Summer is salad, right?  I have been making quite a few, using garden herbs as little sparks.  Sometimes I just grab them all, sometimes I am more pointed in my creation, using only 1 or two.  I have discovered that about a 3-1 ratio of Greek yogurt to mayonaise makes a very tasty dressy, as the mayo rounds out the yogurt.  I've been making what I call Italian potato salad, which is Himself"s favorite.  The dressing is a vinaigrette with Italian herbs and garlic. I use a combination of dry and fresh herbs.  The next one I want to try is a pesto potato salad.  Two of my favorite ingredients.  I am trying to figure out how to use my teas in the salads.  We already use tea leaves to smoke things and in grilling sauces.

Herbs can also be used to add flavor to your tea.  We all know about a sprig of mint, but there is also lemon balm, lavender, lemon thyme, spearmint, in fact, the whole mint family.  Borage flowers are a beautiful blue and add a tiny bit of cucumber taste. There are many types of basil, especially what is known as Holy Basil or tulsi, which make lovely teas.  The red leaved basil would be especially pretty.   Edible flowers, like violas, nasturtiums, and marigolds can add color and charm.

Fruit can add color and flavor to your ice tea, either fresh or frozen.  Add a few slices of peaches or nectarines, perhaps a few choice raspberries, strawberries or blueberries.  If the fruit is frozen, it can be your ice cubes.  It's very common to use lemon slices with hot tea, why not try lime or orange or blood orange?  The tiny Key limes would be very delicate.  I would try them with ice tea as well.  Well, now I must go and put some tea in the fridge.

Ballenberg:  The interior of a very small, very old cabin.  Note the cradle is closest to the warmth of the stove.  The builders were smart, they attached a covered wood shed to the house so the families did not have to brave the bad winters to get wood for the fire.  In larger houses, there would be a huge fire box in one room, with the wood, that would heat three or four central  stoves and hence, the whole house.  Always a pot of hot water on.