Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Very First Tea of The Season

Have you ever thought about what a mass of contradictions we humans are?  We must strive to better ourselves, but accept ourselves for who we are.  Take pride in our accomplishments, but be humble.  Work hard, but avoid stress.  Eat food good for us, but it must be good tasting.  Everything comes with a but.  Everything in moderation, but be extravagant sometimes.  Protect your children, but let them go.  It's no wonder we sometimes fall off this tightrope we call life. When that happens, let's just sit down and have a cup of tea. 

And I am having one of this year's specials, which finally arrived through customs - a Pre-QingMing Da Fo (Great Buddha) Long Jing, harvested and hand-pressed on March 10, 2103.  It comes to me via Life In Teacup, which always has wonderful green and Oolong teas  Gingko has some blacks and pu-erhs as well.  I love Long Jing tea, it feels like silk running through your fingers, each leaf or two carefully pressed absolutely flat as tho' you had been ironing and starching them.

They smell like the great green outdoors, with just a hint of toastiness.  I am brewing them in a little glass pot, so I can watch them dance about.  This is called by some "the agony of the leaves", but I prefer to think of it as a creative dance that yields a lovely drink.   It is the soft green of new leaves and smells a bit like fresh asparagus, a common green tea aroma.    That indeed is the predominant taste, but quite refined.  By the time it gets to the back of my mouth, there are lovely floral tastes, which linger on the palate.  This is another of those teas which compels you to keep drinking it because it is so good and you want to see what the next unfolding of flavor is.  A lovely experience.

There's a magnolia down by the river that is just about to burst into bloom.  They are gorgeous and this year, the weather won't freeze them out before we can enjoy them.  I saw some ducks with ducklings yesterday.  The little ones were swimming with one parent while the other kept watch.  The great blue herons have returned to their rookery and are starting to nest.  Soon we'll get to watch them feeding and rearing the young.  By the river, the understory of the woods is getting green and the pink haze of the tree buds is moving right into red.  Up here, we still are in the early bud stage.

While I was in the garden, I noticed the dandelions are budding.  About another week and we'll have yellow flowers scattered across our lawns.  I like them, although I know many prefer perfect green lawns.  I am with the person who said "If it looks good from 50 feet away, it's good enough".  We did have neighbors once who actually vacuumed their lawn.  I surely was a sore trial to them.

An every day emperor's robe.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tarting Up Tea

Today was my first day setting the garden to rights.  I was very pleased to find that almost all of the lavender survived and will be lovely in another month or so.  I also found that as much as I tried, there is still some orange mint in the front bed.  I am going to move it as it simply isn't polite, but likes to take over.  Which leads me to tarting up tea.  I'm not a great fan of flavored teas, but I love to experiment.

If you like lavender you can make some simple syrup flavored with it for your summer iced teas.  Just heat up 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water and 4 Tablespoons fresh or 2 Tablespoons dried lavender buds, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Cool and strain, keep in the fridge for 2+ weeks.  You can do that with other herbs as well, such as the mints or lemon thyme.  If you don't like sweeteners, just stick a sprig or two in the pot as it brews.  I am very partial to orange mint but this year I am going to try some of the milder ones, like spearmint and apple mint.  I have tried rosemary, but it is much too strong.  Organic dried rosebuds would be lovely as well.

Something else you can do either for a tea punch or ice cubes for ice tea is to freeze edible flowers, either in a ring or the cubes.  Make sure they are edible and unsprayed.  I am thinking of Johnny jump-ups, pansies, violets, rose buds, calendula flowers.  Nasturiums are edible as well, although they can be peppery.  They do come in lovely colors, however.  You could also dry these flowers and add them to your dry tea leaves.

I tried using old tea to cover seeds started in the house - it did not work, they just matted together and grew fuzz.  However, they do well mixed with grass and clover seed to overseed your lawn.  I am determined to have more clover in my lawn.  It smells divine.

I did not try a new tea today.  I was tired and just had my wonderful S. D. Bell's and was so happy to be able to taste it with no other icky tastes!

A longer and somewhat cock-eyed view of Karl's Kirche in Vienna.  It's just such a cool building.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Uh-Oh, I Heard The Siren Song Of The Teapot.

Oh dear, I bought 2 new teapots and 4 cups advertising Lipton Tea, complete with a picture of Sir Thomas looking lordly and a Folger's coffee tin with a Folger's puzzle inside.  The cups and the Folger's go in the advertising collection and the teapots, well, you know where teapots go.  The best one is quite large, with a faux-crackle glaze and pictures of camels and palm trees all around it.  The handle is molded as part of it.  This is a pot to be noticed!  My friends are beginning to wonder if I have become a dormouse and plan to live in one, I have so many.  I comfort myself by knowing some of you have far more than I do.

The lambs are born!  Their busy little tails just flip and flitter as they run and jump and nuzzle their mamas.  The neighbor's cows are out and most of their winter grunge has worn off.  I used to love when our cows were let out for the spring, they would hop and buck and run and just act crazy, so glad they were to be able to smell fresh air and green grass.  Of course, the milk would taste a bit grassy in the spring as well, but the cows were happy.

Today is the 113th annual Convocation of Crows of the Southern Tier.  They have arranged themselves in tiers in our back woods.  I guess this is just the meet and mingle part of the festivities as they are all talking at the top of their lungs.  On the schedule is "Toolmaking to fool humans",  "Stupid things people do"  "Sources for nest making" and that all-important "Best spots for carrion"  I shall be glad when it is over, they are quite noisy.

I am eagerly awaiting tomorrow when I can get back to tea tasting.  I am well and I thank you all for your kind words. Coffee manages to overcome the medicine taste, but it came through in the tea and made a lovely drink unpleasant.

Oh dear, I am as bad about plants as I am about tea pots.  Our first seasonal garden center opened today and there I was, wallowing in all the smells and the glory of flowers.  Teapot designers have gotten stuck on some flowers, I wish they would go to a nursery and expand their repertoire.  I would love one with marigolds or edelweiss or some of the very delicate blooms I saw today.  I did buy an edelweiss again and maybe this time I can grow one.  I never have any good luck, but they call to my Swiss heritage.

Yet another Viennese doorway, this one to Karl's Kirche.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Maybe Yes, Maybe No

I'm sorry, tea friends, to not be posting, but I have to take a nasty medicine for my infection and it makes my mouth and everything I eat taste disgusting.  And it also upsets my stomach - which is worse,  the disease or the cure?  However, tomorrow is the last day,  Hooray!

Okay!  I will now say Spring has officially reached the Owego Alps.  The bears are out of hibernation, proved by their night-time raid of the neighborhood suet feeders and I have flowers blooming - the tiny blue chiondoxa and one lone, bright daffodil.  Down by the river, forsythia are blooming and they have a host of daffodils, tulips and crocus.  The willows are definitely yellow and the maples are bursting their buds.  So now we can relax and sit back and enjoy! enjoy!  enjoy!  Then we can work, work, work to clean up and plant and do all those things gardeners are just raring to do.

But wait!  We had SNOW last night.  Really, enough is enough.

I was very taken with European doorways.  This one is the rear door to the guest quarters of the Belvedere Place in Vienna, Austria.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Tea, Tomatoes and Critters

I am having one of Siam Tee's Oolongs today. It is Chaa Nang Ngam - DMS Beauty Oolong.  The leaves are tightly wrapped in little balls.  The packet has a dusty floral smell, with a hint of sharp library paste.  I love the packets these come in - vacuum shrunk metallic, with a lovely picture on the front.  This one is basically pink with a pretty woman on the front.

First, I rinsed it for a few seconds and then brewed it about a minute - not too impressive, yet.  A nice floral aroma, and a somewhat slight floral taste.  The leaves are barley unfurled.

Second wash, the aroma has shifted to a tart, almost unpleasant one, reminiscent of black currants.  About 3/4ths of the leaves are unfurled.  There is a somewhat sharp flavor as well. I let this second infusion go too long.  I'll try again tomorrow when I will have more time.  I am sorry I tried this today, as I am not patient.  I really didn't give it a good test.

There are more signs of Spring - my heart rejoices with each and every one.  The tiny white flowers of rock cress are blooming and in the woods, the small oven bird is calling in a very loud voice, "teacher, teacher, teacher".  The woods below us are really flaunting the red of new buds and hooray, a lot of bulbs are poking up their heads, especially the little scilla, which are real favorites of mine.  Sadly, the less attractive features are here as well, including a front yard barely above the water line and those pesky deer, who are getting redder by the day,  eating my day lily leaves.  I put this really noxious spray on them and perhaps it will help.

The birds are multiplying like crazy, today there were all our woodpeckers, the goldfinches, a cardinal, the grackles, blue birds, a white breasted nuthatch, a tufted titmouse and a huge! crow.The squirrels are out running around.  I feed them peanuts, but there is one golden eared one who absolutely has to raid the bird feeder.  He is not high on my popularity list.

Last night I went to a really interesting demo on grafting tomatoes.  It's really quite easy and the success rate is high.  The grafted ones are more disease resistant, produce more fruit over a longer period of time.  I have two itty bitty ones and we'll see how they do.  I was surprised to be told that any day it is over 50 I should put them out.  We'll see about that as well.  Oh, I am just so HAPPY that spring is coming on.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Let's Lift A Cup To The Spring Peepers!

Today is a lovely spring day, sun shining, birds singing and Ta Da! the peepers are peeping.  They started very faintly last Thursday and they are not yet at full crescendo, but they are getting there.  They are a full month later than last year.  Do you know what peepers are?  They are a very small male frog that makes a lot of noise trying to attract a mate.  They are rated on their "singing" ability.  I wish them luck.  This will last about 2 weeks.  It is a definitive sign of spring and an indication that we have healthy wetlands here.

Noise wise, this is supposed to be the year for the 17 year cicadas to emerge, find a mate and then go underground again.  I know they are well thought of in Chinese culture, but I hate them.  They are totally ugly and make a terrible noise, far louder and harsher than the peepers.  Fortunately, they will not last long, either, but while they are here, being outside will be a trial.

Guess what?  Since I was in the hospital for 2.5 days I did some research on the availability and quality of tea.  Don't, unless your taste buds have died, bother drinking it.  It is for sure, tea bags, and I think they are saved from WWII.  The water is luke warm and if you are really lucky, it will be served in a cup that still tastes like coffee.  The coffee, while marginal, is a much better bet.  The best, of course, should you be so stuck, is to have a visitor bring you in the good stuff,  made with loose leaves and the right temperature of water.  If not, don't say I didn't warn you should you decide to opt for tea.

Speaking of loose leaves, I know some people think that insisting on them is snobbish.   My  feeling is why waste your money on something that's not good when for less money, you can have the best?  I have drunk a lot of tea, and I have time and again found that loose leaf is better and cheaper  (next time you buy tea bags, pay attention to how many ounces you have and then compare that to $10 for 4 ounces of good tea).  I do admit to using tea bags when lazy, but they are PG Tips which I think are quite decent for tea bags.  Typhoo are another that are decent, as well.  The only kind of tea bag tea that I really think is okay is herbal and I confess to a love of lemon herbals.  So I guess I am a tea snob.  And proud of it.  I have no shame in this regard.

I have a gut infection, so I will not be drinking much tea - only herbals and nothing I have not reviewed before.  I may yak about other stuff, however.  You can't really silence someone as opinionated as me.  I am also plowing my way through a book about tea and I may comment on that.

This is the very lovely ceiling of a church near the Rhine, in Germany, between Koln and Frankfurt.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Sip on the Wild Side

Korean tea is very slowly making its way into the American market.  For one thing, there isn't a great deal of it and it tends to be expensive.  Koreans don't drink a lot of tea.  They generally drink coffee or "teas" made from barley, corn, fruit and various other herbs and trees.  I got my Wild Pear Tea from a booth at World Tea East.  The booth had been hurriedly put together and was manned by folks whose command of English was minimal.  I don't know the name of the company but here is the website.  It is in Korean with a few English words here and there.

The dry tisane smelled of dried pears and appeared to just be small pellets of pear, very dry and very hard.  I brewed it for about 10 minutes with boiling water.  There wasn't much aroma.  I chewed some of the  by now soft pellets and they tasted like pear and were very grainy, as pears are.  I have to say the resulting brew didn't taste like much except slightly sweet hot water.  Perhaps I didn't use enough.  When my Korean friend, Mae, returns from Washington, I'll ask her how to make it and get back to you.

Hooray, today is sunny, only coolish, and the wind has stopped blowing.  It's been a gale around here for about 5 days and quite often you'd hear a crash as an old tree or limb bit the dust.  Speaking of trees. did you ever wonder why their branches grow the way they do?  In the winter, I am often looking at them and wondering why they twist and turn so much, especially trees that are older and have clearly been by themselves, without interference from others.

Some of the bulbs I planted last fall are finally poking up their noses.  I was wondering if they all died.  They aren't far enough in the ground, but we only have 3 inches - really, I am not exaggerating- of so-called topsoil over gravel and there's a severe upper limit to how much digging out of gravel we'll do.

A simple gold candle holder, about 5 feet tall.  Where else, Vienna.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

At Tea With Vietnam

I put an order in to Upton's Teas because they had so many new ones to try.  This particular one is from Vietnam, a black tea, Shan Tuyet,  which means Mountain Tea, and comes from ancient trees in the Northern Highlands, rather than in the Mekong Delta region.  Most Vietnamese tea is grown and processed by small farmers, who often use old laundry driers to cure their tea.

The dry tea has an odd aroma that I can't put my finger on.  It is smokey, woodsy, earthy, mushroomy, but it isn't, if you can understand that.  It is black with some golden tan tips included. The suggested brewing is 5 minutes with boiling water, so I do.  The brewed tea throws in maybe roasted or grilled green beans or grilled summer squash.  See why I can't put my finger on it?

The brewed tea is a yellowed amber and tastes a bit like a Lapsang Souchong.  But it also tastes of tree bark and the vegetables, with a hint of chocolate in the back.  It has a good clean feel, with a short lingering time, which is where the chocolate hint comes in. However, this is not a tea for sweets.  This is a hearty breakfast or roast beef accompaniment.  I, who always put milk in my black tea, didn't.  I don't think it would go.  I will probably try some when my cup is almost gone.  At first I didn't like the tea, but by the bottom of the cup, I was a convert.  This quite good and intriguing.

The entance to the Hapsburg Place in the middle of Vienna

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Bit of Gothic

The woods are dark and mysterious this morning, calling to mind gothic novels with their forbidding air of mystery, the mist moving as if it were the tatters of ghostly apparel. The trees bend in the wind, the birds are still, hunched in the rain that drops and slides over  every tree and plant.

Perhaps this is a good day for a somewhat romantic tea, as most gothic novels I read in my misspent youth were romances with a big helping of mystery.  They were so predictable.  As soon as the handsome laird showed up and treated the heroine miserably you knew he was "The One" she would spend the next 150 pages trying to engage.  Meanwhile, there was a gloomy manor, a scary cellar and surely, something she would need to be rescued from.

So, my tea today is SD Bell's China Raspberry from Best International Tea.  When I opened the packet, it smelled just like a box of raspberry creme chocolates, rich, creamy, oozy.  The dry leaves are pretty standard, quite black with some small white bits that may be flowers.  There is nothing on the label to indicate anything about it.  As I brewed it (3.5 minutes, 212 degree water)  it began to remind me of church basements when the women of the church were preparing a big dinner - warm and comforting, filled with memories of good people and good food.  There wasn't much raspberry scent at first, but as it cooled enough for me to sip it, more came out.

This is more a raspberry cream tea than a straight raspberry.  It's good, but it isn't to my taste.  Milk doesn't seem to do anything for it, in fact, it seems to overwhelm it.  If you like raspberry cream, by all means try it.  I would advice a heaping spoon and a 3 minute brew.

The nice folk at Best sent me some candy bars to try.  So far, I have only had the milk chocolate with almonds.  It's wonderful.  Seems to have just a tad of sea salt in it as well, which I really like.  It is very creamy, with slivers of almond running through.

There are the horses in action on the Vienna streets.  Much of Vienna is quite charming and very elegant, with wonderful food.