Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Yes, You Can Have Tea With Pizza

Another Stellar Summer Treat is on the menu for tonight.  It is cool enough to have the oven on and we're having fresh tomato pizza.  It could not be simpler - one pizza crust, either bought or homemade.  Smear it with good extra-vrgin olive oil - I have some very nice California oil, which is a bit fruitier than others.  Slice your summer-fresh tomatoes and crowd them on.  If your tomatoes are super juicy, let them sit on a paper towel for a while.  Add a little mozzarella if you want to, bake in a 475 degree oven until you think it's done and there you have it.  An alternative is to smear the crust with pesto or top the tomatoes with some pesto or put fresh basil leaves under the tomatoes.  If you on put them on top, they burn.  Guess how I know that little piece of info. 

You can also grill the pizza, but I will leave you to go to other sources to find out how.  The fresh tomato pizza is a nice savory for a tea party - just cut it so each small piece has a slice of tomato.  You could also alternate with slices of squash and that would be pretty as well.  If you do either, decorate with some small, fresh basil leaves.  These are good cold as well as hot.  I learned a trick for warming up pizza from a chef friend of mine - do it in a frying pan over low heat.  Cover the pan until the toppings warm and it is practically indistinguishable from fresh, especially the mostly veggie sort.  This way, you could make the pizza the day before, cool it, wrap it well and pop in the fridge.

I have discovered that you can have tea with pizza.  For this, I make a strong dark tea, like an English Breakfast - this is not the place for something delicate.  I use a good bit of lemon in it and it seems to go pretty well.  I tried it with some basil in it to go with the pizza - not a great idea.  It's not as good as beer or root beer, but if you must have tea with everything, this is pretty good.  I am going to try it with some lemon flavored seltzer.  I know, it sounds weird, but you need to experiment, right?

If you like fresh chives in the winter or thyme or most of the perennial herbs, now is the time to pot them up to bring in the house later, provided you have south facing windows.  This, of course, is for those of us in the north.  I have pots of rosemary, chive and a new herb, culantro, all set.  I really miss fresh basil in the winter, but a paste of basil and a little oil, frozen flat in freezer bags, goes a long way towards getting me through.  For us, it is more useful than basil cubes.  If you can't grow chives, I have found that snipping them and rushing them into the freezer in flattened bags and only adding them at the very last second, works quite well.  Then you have chives to decorate your tea sandwiches with or to mix into them.  I especially appreciate garlic chives this way, as grocery store may have the regular ones fresh, but never the garlic.  Dried chives are just so much paper.

The walkway around a monastery high above the German Village of Obernhof.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Corn and Tomatoes

There is nothing like a trip to the farmers' market, even our little tiny one.  The sight and smell of all those lovely veggies and fruit, the satisfying pull on your shoulders as you carry your bounty to the car, can't beat it.  Then, off home, to have the first corn and tomatoes of the season for lunch, ending with a freshly made icebox blueberry pie.  So simple, so good.

I got a book from the library when it was so hot - Icebox  Pies by Lauren Chattman.  It came out in 2002, so it's probably not in bookstores, but Amazon and Kindle have it.  I could have made a crust, but I didn't.  I can't say the store bought ones are super, but at least I don't have to turn on the oven, and it's very nice to be able to quickly make something, stick it in the icebox and then eat it.

It's cool enough for hot tea again today.  Upton's this time, a very simple tea - China Black, Flowery Orange Pekoe.  The dry leaves are a pleasant mix of brown and black, finely cut, and smell like a very nice, almost flowery, good quality pipe tobacco.  I brewed it for 4 minutes.  The brewing aroma was rich and fresh, with a hint of dark cherry, again with some pipe tobacco.  The liqueur is fairly dark.  The flavor is a fairly standard dark tea, but there are hints of sweetness - the cherry?, a little hint of metallic, maybe a bit of toast.  I tried it with some cream as well, which brought out all of that.  In fact, I think it is better with some cream, more interesting..

There is an entire family of blue jays lined up on the feeder pole by my window, giving me the evil eye - no suet.  Ah well, you're very greedy and must wait until tomorrow.  Today, Monday and Wednesday are evil vet days.  Two of the critters accept their fate, two are horrendous. Sarah is because she is afraid and Bertie is because someone is daring to interfere in his life.  They are so embarrassing.  Fortunately, our vet is the nicest man in the world and is very understanding.

There, this is a much simpler, small country church in the village of Oberhof, Germany, where some of my ancestors came from, just as I promised.  I really like both styles of church, for different reasons.  They are both beautiful

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tea, Cookies and Gardens

Last night a group of us Master Gardeners went to visit one of our colleagues gardens.  It was beautiful - and huge!  The man keeping it all is 81.  Far more than I do even now.  One of the very nice treats was a pound cake with pineapple sage.  The sage had been stewed in simple syrup and then the syrup poured over the cake.  Very, very nice.  We decided the heat brought out the flavor.  So, next time, I will try it in my tea again, only I will brew it by the hot water method.  Apparently you need to bruise it and use quite a bit.  The woman who made it says she makes it a lot with lemon verbena, which doesn't take nearly as much.

It is over 90 all last week, so this tea princess was drinking a lot of ice tea and not going out much.  We tried to let out the cats one morning, but they put their noses out and then gave us one of those looks as they scooted back inside.  If it is too hot for them, it is definitely too hot for me.

Today, however, is our reward for survival, it is only 70, there's a breeze and we had rain - can't get much better than that.  I am having hot tea to celebrate.  I know, I know, hot tea is supposedly to make you cooler, but I don't think so.  So my hot tea for today's cool weather is from the tea trekker: 2011 late spring pluck High Himalaya Hand-Rolled Tips from Nepal.  It's a really beautiful mix of black, grey-green and beige for the tips.  It smells like hay, old wood and a touch of dried tobacco with the merest whiff of smoke.

The light amber brew is quite a surprise, taste-wise.  It truly reminds me of lemon sugar cookies.  It has a slight hint of citrus, with a biscuit-ty, cookie taste.  There's also some hazelnut and something like old wood, warmed in the sun in it.  Altogether, it is one of the best teas I've had.

The waysides are so pretty right now, with the gold and brown of brown-eyed susans, the yellow of trefoil, white from Queen Ann's lace and blue from chicory, all backed by dark green bushes with bright red berries.
The water lily pond near us is bursting with their beautiful white flowers.  I am especially thrilled to see them as last year it was so hot and dry they just curled up brown and ugly.  Did you know you can grow Queen Ann's lace from seed in your garden?  Looks a bit like the wild ones on steroids.

In my garden, the day lilies are blooming their hearts out.  I have one that is a mild orange sherbet color that is not just double, it is quadruple, with little dark flecks, like pepper in it.  It is absolutely gorgeous.  It is near a dark red and they really set each other off.  I really love day lilies and just drool over the catalog from Oakes.  Sadly, the deer also like them, so I have to keep spraying around the garden to keep them off.  A friend showed me how to get them to leave - give a loud deep cough and off they go - it sounds like the "Danger!" signal they give each other.

How's this for an altar screen?  I am very taken with it.  But then, I was very taken with the whole church, which is in Germany and dedicated to Mary.  It is a very feminine building, with it's color stone, pink and white ceiling and tall, graceful arches and windows.  Next time I 'll show you some pictures of the very simple country church my ancestors attended.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tea, Tea and Then Tea

Ah, patriotism!  It rings out every fourth of July, as it should.  It often is overly sentimental, and for me, a bit much.  I am patriotic, just quietly.  But I did go to a July 4th concert of choral music in a small town near us.  It was excellent.  Spirited, changeable and just plain fun.  Many fitting reminders of those who have held this land dear for the nearly 300 years the white man has been here. Except for the Civil War, close enough relatives have fought in every one from King Phillip's to Vietnam.  I wish we would get out of the business of war and that our future history would be written about great achievements, not on the bodies and minds of young men and women.

I have been savoring the Twining's Early Grey decaf ice tea I wrote about last time.  It really is lovely.  Everything about it just comes together perfectly.  I like that it is decaf - I can drink more of it and in the summer, one needs to drink a lot.

I had a thought about making a slush or sorbet or granita, whichever you might like.  If you made a strong lemon scented tea or a lemon tisane and combined that with some sugar syrup and watermelon, wouldn't that be good and refreshing?  How about a jasmine tea with some candied ginger?  Rose Congou and rosewater?  You could make them as ice pops, too.  I think the black tea as ice pops would be more appealing.  At least to me.

I made a pound cake and flavored it with some Czar Nikolas Green tea, finely ground.  It is a large recipe, so I used 3 tablespoons and added a very little lemon flavoring.  It is excellent!  It has a somewhat mysterious flavor, with the citruses coming through and just a hint of the green.

I have a lot of old tea that is just too past its prime to use.  I am saving it in a canister and when it is cooler and rainy, I am again going to mix it with clover seed and try again to do something more about my lawn's bare patches.  It really works to help mulch the seed.  My very worst patch, which was all bare scree last year, has almost totally filled in and I am very proud of myself.  A great deal of the lawn is now clover and it smells wonderful for weeks..  I have allysum around the lavender bed and in a window box, plus some scented day lilies, so the front door opens on loveliness.

The pillars of Ischia.  Looks old and historic at first glance, but it is really just concrete supports for a car park..

Friday, July 12, 2013

Dragons and Earls and Peaches, Oh My

I have some Earl Grey Decaf from Twinings brewing for ice tea, as well as some Dragon Well Green from Rishi Tea.  I haven't tried either one hot, so they will both be a new experience for me.  I don't think I've met a Dragon Well I didn't like, although the same cannot be said for the Earl.  Some of them simply have no flavor or they are gunked up with other flavors.  I really do like to keep my tea on the relatively straight and narrow.  I don't usually do decaf either, but we are having company who would prefer it, so I am being kind.  I used 16 teabags for a 3 quart pitcher.  I hope it's not too much, but then, it is teabags.  I don't usually do teabags, either, but it was a gift, so I thought I ought to use it.  I could have emptied the bags, but I am too lazy in this heat.

This morning was pleasant, so the cats and I tidied the flower beds, which have rioted.  I gathered some basil for supper's pesto and lots of lavender got hung to dry for tea and just smelling nice.  Some of my lavender is quite pretty, but doesn't have much scent.  Some has a rather nasty scent and I am going to put it elsewhere.

The Earl Grey is quite nice.  It's a tad heavy, but the bergamot comes out quite nicely and the tea itself is a very pleasant gentle "afternoon" type.  Sadly, the Dragonwell does not shine as ice tea.  It is muddy and sullen, although it is a beautiful straw color.  Something tells me if I want it iced, I should hot brew it first.  I wound up mixing it with lemonade and then it was okay.

My sister-in-law sent me a recipe for a peach cobbler that is so easy and good, it is my new go-to for fruit I need to use up.  I used nectarines which weren't as ripe as I thought, so I put a little orange flower water on them.  I have found that it, of course, perfumes the fruit that isn't quite ripe, but also seems to bring them more fully into their flavors.  If you live in an area with a Middle Eastern population, this should be easy to access.  If not, I know you can get it on the internet.  Just remember a small amount goes a very long way.  I also think another peach wouldn't hurt.  If you try it, the batter will be far more liquid than you expect, but it works just fine, don't worry.

The url for the recipe is

One thing I really like about tea, it is a constant journey of technique and flavor, history and culture.  I like new and different things and with tea, I feel I'll never get to the end of them.  Cooking is like that as well.  Sometimes it is wonderful and sometimes, like twice this week, it goes out to feed the critters.

Look at all those lovely shadows and light, playing over the stone walls.  This picture makes me feel cool, which is most welcome right now.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

See The USA In Your Tea

Happy Birthday America!  As the descendant of both Mohawk Indians and my immigrant Swiss grandparents, I fell I can celebrate from both sides of the coin, although I am not sure that present day Mohawks feel quite so celebrative.  My first ancestor from this land was an Indian princess, Ots-Toch, daughter of the Queen of the Mohawk Turtle Clan. She ruled an Indian castle around what is now Fultonville, NY.  Another ancestress was  Sarah Rapelie, daughter of Catalina Trico and Joris de Rapelie,  the first white child born in the Dutch colonies, which stretched from Manhattan, north to what became Albany, NY. They were French, coming here to escape religious persecution.  My Swiss ancestors came here early in the 1900's.  All Americans, except for Native Americans, are immigrants, unless you go back to the end of the Ice Age.

People came here for many reasons.  Some for religious freedom, some for adventure, some for a chance to own land and be their own person and some, just for a chance at wealth, but some came with no hope, as slaves.  Today's immigrants come for the same reasons, people haven't changed too much in 400 years.  We are a diverse nation and we need to work on celebrating that diversity, even as we celebrate our birthday.

Now, what tea to use to celebrate?  I just happen to have some homegrown Charleston Plantation Tea, which is already iced and ready to go.  It's a fairly plain tea and makes a fine plain ice tea.  There is nothing wrong with plainness.  Sometimes tea people get too caught up in searching for too many adjectives to describe something.

There are several other sources for American grown teas and now there is The United States League of Tea Growers, which had its inception at the World Tea Expo in June.  Tea has grown to such a big market here that we can recognize it in this way.  Charleston, owned by the Bigelow Tea Company is the oldest.  Another Southern one is Fairhope Tea Plantation, in Alabama. Their teas may be purchased through  Hawaii has several plantations, Big Island Tea at is perhaps the best known, but is currently only selling its tea through Harrods of London.  Cloudwater Tea is another, but is having website problems at the moment.  Onomea Tea at where you can buy tea directly from them.  Their tea is all organic, as is Big Island.

Salem, Oregon has the Minto Island Growers, but you need to go to their farm stand.  Washington has the Sakuma Brothers at and they have 3 kinds of tea for sale, with free shipping.  In Mississippi FiLoLi Tea Farm is in the process of growing tea, as is Roy Fong of the Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco.

If any of you know of any other US tea farms, estates, plantations, please let me know.  As for me, I'll be on the back porch, sipping tea, as soon as the mowers are done.

More Ravenna mosaics,this time, a floor view.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Sweet Citrus

The scones are all gone and I still would like a sweet for tea.  I have 4 very ripe nectarines, so I decided to make what I think is called a gallette.  It's a kind of rough-hewn tart.  I made some pastry in the Cuisinart, stuck it in the fridge, and then sliced up the nectarines and mixed them with some sugar and cardamom.  That done, I rolled out the pastry, put it in a pan, poured in the fruit and then folded the edges of the pastry up around it and baked it.  It's all very casual and doesn't take long.  It's ideal when you really don't have enough fruit for a real pie or tart. If you want to fancy it up, you could add a layer of pudding under the fruit.

I am enjoying another tea I saved specifically for ice tea.  Rishi Tea's Organic Green Tea - Orange Blossom.  In the summer, as long as it is ice tea, I don't mind flavors as, on the whole, I regard ice tea as just a cold drink.  Sad, but true.  This has osthmanthus flowers, lemongrass, lemon myrtle, rose flavoring,  jasmine flowers and aromatic citrus, i.e. essential oils.  All of these are organic.  It smells mostly lemony, but there is a definite fruity undertone.

Rishi even tells you how to make this the cold brew method - 4 tablespoons tea to a quart of water, 4 hours in the fridge.  It comes out very nicely, a very pleasant straw color.  It is vaguely sweet, with a somehow minty citrus flavor.  It seems to go with most foods and is certainly fine on it's own.  I find it quite refreshing.  I appreciate the fact that it is all organic.

Ravenna, Italy mosiacs.  A mere 1,000 years old and still shining.