Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Toasting the New Year with My First Batch of Kombucha

Happy 2015!  The DH (dear hubby) and I will be lifting glasses of kombucha, our very first batch, to celebrate the New Year.  

I won't attempt to explain how to make kombucha.  Others have done this quite well and I'm a novice.  If you're interested in trying home brewing of this fermented tea beverage, I recommend you take a class or find a good book.  I've wanted to try for years but was always a little intimidated.  It's actually quite simple - and it's magic!


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Confession:  I'm feeling a little like Grinch right now.  Work deadlines have me spending this weekend at the PC, instead of at tea class and other fun things.  And I've got miles of projects to sew before I sleep.  

But the truth is that my grumbles are so, so minor. I enjoy the work I'm doing and this bubble of intensity is temporary. I have a life filled with health, love of family and friends, beauty, creativity, good tea and many other treasures.  I wish that for each of you, and especially for those who are needing a kindness.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Drinking SE Asian Teas

How fortunate I am to have friends that love tea AND that travel to far away places and bring back teas to try!  I recently had the chance to taste tea from Southeast Asia, specifically Laos and Burma.

The Laos tea was from an "old tree."  We think that means no one knew exactly when the tea tree was planted.  Maybe it went rogue, but now it's being harvested and processed into black tea.  It brewed into this lovely copper color shown above.  I enjoyed this tea very much.

Piglet gets muddy

The Burma tea was a "pu-erh" in the shou (ripe) style. This tea brick was purchased from a local company, Tao of Tea.  As you can see, it brewed into a rich chocolate color.  Look closely to find the steam floating on the surface of the liquor.  

As we sipped, we reviewed a map to see exactly where the countries that produced these teas were in relation to Yunnan, China.  Relatively close, which makes for an interesting consideration of tea flavor profiles and processing techniques.  I love learning about the world through tea!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book: Ancient Art of Tea

"Without water, there can be no discussion of tea."
Xu Ci Xu

I've been slowly working my way through this book, sent to me for review by Tuttle Publishing.  I move through this book slowly because there's much to learn and absorb.  

The book is great for someone (like me) who loves to geek out on tea. The author, Warren Peltier, takes ancient texts and translates them, while also making some pointed commentary on his own when it's useful.  Peltier says in the preface, "Some readers may be familiar with the "God of Tea", Lu Yu, and his Classic of Tea, but what did other tea masters of the same or later periods have to write about tea brewing and preparation?  This book is a record of what they said."

Segmented into major sections that discuss the Art of Tea, Water for Tea, Preparing Fire for Tea, Taste of Tea and Tea Etiquette, it's a book best red in sips, not gulps.  A book returned to as a reference and a prompt for reflection. I can't say it's easy reading, because we're traveling back in time, but I can say for me it's pretty fascinating!  

If you're into Chinese tea and history, this book is for you.

Tea drinking has fixed times each day: pre-dawn, breakfast time, forenoon,
meal time, evening, and at sunset.
 Wen Long

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Background Makes the Foreground

The background makes the foreground

The soft blue to the cobalt
The blur to the focal point
The ground to the fall
The step to the rise
The silence to the sound
The longing to the joy
The fear to the success
The team to the leader
The child to the self

It turns out
   The background makes the foreground

Friday, November 28, 2014

There's No Need to Hurry

"The month of November makes me feel that life is passing more quickly.  In an effort to slow it down, I try to fill the hours more meaningfully."

Though winter encroaches, I'm not ready to let go of Autumn just yet.  The shops along our little community's center are decked out in twinkle lights, green and red - but I want a few more days of gold and rust, of mustard and brown.  I want to tarry with the nation in a state of thankfulness rather than buying-fulness.  "There's no need to hurry" are some "sweet words" I heard at a recent retreat, and I beckon them now.

I had the privilege of hosting a friend for tea recently.  Just the two of us, my favorite way of getting to know someone.  I used this tea set with its rust and gold.  I like its boldness.  I linger and look at its detail, run my finger along its pattern, decipher the scene.

"Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures." 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Gift Giving

'Tis the season of gift giving and receiving.  I enjoy both, I think most of us do.  Truthfully, I like this best when it's at unexpected times.  Nonetheless, we all find ourselves giving gifts or receiving them at prescribed intervals.  It can be a little maddening on top of the enjoyment.

I've been refining my gift-giving philosophy.  Here are a few of my guidelines.  What are yours?
  • Am I giving from a place of joy?  If not, then something has to change. I have cut back deeply on obligation gifting in favor of  giving with more thought and heart.  
  • Am I in a gifting pattern that is no longer necessary? Some long-time friends and I made the agreement a few years ago to stop the annual Christmas gift exchange.  It had become a habit, but none of us needed the stuff.  Instead, we spend time together.
  • Can I make a gift this person would appreciate?  Or can I give something made locally?
  • Can I give an experience (rather than another thing)?
  • Is this something that I think the person will love?  (I try to avoid "generic" gifts when possible.  A tea suited to the person's tastes or personality is always an awesome gift!)
  • I'm learning that the wrapping and unwrapping of something is half the fun!  The Japanese understand this well.  I'm not a neat corner-folder-wrapper, but I am creative so I go with that.
On the flip side, there is a skill to receiving gifts, as well - and gently directing what you'll receive from those closest to you.
  • The Dear Hubby (DH) and I seldom exchange gifts for the big holidays.  Instead, we share little surprises throughout the year.  On the "big days" we favor spending time together in a special way. If one of us really wants a thing, we make a specific request.  This took me a bit to wrap my head around in our early days, but the DH and I are both much happier with a specific list!
  • I also give Mom a list.  Thank you, Mom, for all of your generosity.
  • I am appreciative of any gift I receive (even the odd ones!) and write a thank-you note.  There is grace in practicing gratitude.

I hope your holiday gifting and receiving season brings you joy.  Do you have tips to share?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday Morning

A suspended morning
  The fountain sings
       I've been home-making
         I am happy

A morning alone 
   The sun shines on my face
      I've been drinking tea slowly
         I am content

Morning today
   The raindrop glitters
      I've been writing messily
         I am

Saturday Morning:  A poem I wrote recently
The tea shown is King of the Forest Sheng Pu-erh from Global Tea Hut

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Revisiting St. James Tearoom (Albuquerque)

I recently had the opportunity to revisit the St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, NM.  It's my favorite tearoom in large part due to the emphasis on well-made tea, excellent and creative food, and the superior service.  And also for sentimental reasons.  Over many cups of tea at the St. James I have dreamed, nurtured friendships, celebrated and even cried.  It was here that my friends bid me farewell from NM 10 years ago and it is here that I return whenever I'm in the Land of Enchantment.

Here's a tour and I hope you enjoy!

Above: The portal to a world of beauty.  Below:  The hallway that leads to the tea nooks.  I really like this hallway, especially the light with the directional signs.

You can choose a hat along the way.

This little welcome card awaited us.  Thoughtful small touches like this make a big impact.

In addition to lovely traditional china cups and saucers, the St. James now has its own custom china. Each cup and saucer showcases one of the St. James values with words like beauty, civility and excellence.

My dear friends who gathered for tea.

The Chronicles of Narnia provided the inspiration for this month's menu. It's worth noting, the St. James has provided a gluten-free option for afternoon tea since long before it was mainstream.  The gluten free menu is lovingly prepared and as substantial as the 'main' menu.  

Savories: Alsan's turkey apple pate, Pevensie's parsnip pear latke, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver's cottage pie, Magical wild rice and butternut squash.  Served with Sir Philip Sidney traditional black tea.

Scones: The amazing St. James cream scones (the best, according to me!) and Professor Digory's apple scones,  with apple curd and clotted cream.  Served with Caramel Delights scented tea.

Sweets: Upside down chocolate nut cake, the White Witch's cranberry compote pavlova and chai custard ice cream with chocolate spice cookie. Served with Charleston green tea.

My heart is full of warmth and fond memories from my visit to this special place with special friends.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Days in the Desert

I haven't blogged for a week as I've been in the desert, nourishing my soul. I spent time there with women from this amazing community:  Women Writing for (a) Change, Bloomington.

 In fact, we've been basking in the sun in Georgia O'Keeffe's desert at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM.  In the photo above, the flat topped mesa toward the right is called Pedernal, but it's also known as Georgia's Mountain because she painted it regularly and her ashes were scattered there.

Time to write, time to hike and time to go horseback riding.  Life is good!  Socks was my trusty steed.

On the last day, three women and I set out on a sunrise hike to Chimney Rock.  It may sound like a cliché, but it truly was a spiritual experience hiking with the sun, greeting the moon and climbing to the top where we whooped with joy and then offered our gratitude and prayers.  

Joy in the beginning
Joy throughout 
Joy in the end

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Toasting Spices for Cider

Cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorns, cloves and star anise

It's apple cider season and I love this annual treat!  My favorite way to drink it is spiced, and I use my recipe for chai spices, shown above, along with coriander and fresh ginger if I happen to have them. I go heavy on the black pepper.  And here's the secret:  Toast the spices in a dry skillet and then crush them (in big pieces) in a mortar and pestle.  Place them into a cheese cloth and simmer in the cider for at least 20 minutes.  Aaahhh.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Tea and Toast for Halloween

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein

Happy Halloween!

I do love this day of imagination, playfulness and embracing childhood delight.  I also love the reverent side, the Day of the Dead observations and family remembrances.  I recall with fondness my time in New Mexico, seeing the graveyards decorated and people spending time there to honor loved ones that have passed.  May we all find both sides of our spirits today.

A little more fun...

From The Nightmare Before Christmas

"Dr. Finkelstein:  
That's twice this month you've slipped deadly nightshade into my tea and run off.  

Sally:  Three times.  

Dr. Finkelstein:  You're mine, you know!  I made you with my own hands."

And this one:

"Doctor, I made your favorite brew, just the way you like it - six ounces of lemon tea, and three-quarters of an ounce of frog's breath, plus three-quarters of an ounce of worm's wort!  And I definitely did not add three-quarters of an ounce of deadly nightshade."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Hundred Indecisions and Revisions

Meet Ribbit, my newest tea pet

Ribbit was given to me by a sweet and generous tea friend.  He's a tiny little guy - the scale is misleading in this photo because the teacup is also tiny.  He's the size of a pebble and he's adorable!  Small but mighty, he is. Ribbit and I have been doing some thinking and talking together.  We've discussed this poem:

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of toast and tea.
    ~ T.S. Eliot

It's amazing to me how the poems I need find their ways to me at the right time. I've needed this poem.  

Aforementioned friend and a few other precious ones are helping me with a special tea project which has been brewing in my head and heart for 9 months.  Interesting timing.  :-)  I've been making a hundred indecisions and a hundred visions and revisions.  

I've learned about giving space to those hundred indecisions and revisions.  I'm normally a tackle and resolve sort of person when it comes to getting a project done.  This project is demanding its own time table and my patience.  It's requiring me to soul search and that was unexpected, but in the end rewarding.   I'm learning a lot, yes I am.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Camellia Sinensis with Effusive Blossoms

As you know, "tea" comes from the camellia sinensis plant.  And here's what that plant looks like, in case you have not had the pleasure to see one.  This plant came to me as a gift from Marmalady about three years ago and, thanks to the green thumb of the DH, has been thriving.  This year it bloomed effusively.

"Cami", as I call her, has been living for the past year on our north balcony.  The plant seems to be thriving within a large pot (I think this is pot #3), well-drained soil and the level of light in that space. It's not a full day of sun.  We had Cami on the south balcony for a bit and it was too much direct sun. The DH also provides an occasional fertilization and has done some shaping of the plant, as well. 

If you have a tea plant that is doing well, what tips can you share for its healthy growth?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Baozhong: Lunch

Shiuwen, of Floating Leaves Tea, is writing a series on her blog about five major categories of Oolong tea from Taiwan. This is based on her recent presentation at the NW Tea Fest and I'm honored to have been able to help with that.  She begins with Baozhong tea - read the story here.

Farmer Chen

For the duration of this series, I thought I'd share a few side stories.  Today I'll talk about a fantastic lunch we had in Pinglin. We had been visiting and tasting teas in Farmer Chen's shop. When it was lunchtime, we walked to the restaurant that his wife operates and were treated to a feast!  

Walking through town

Farmer Chen's wife
The lunch menu:  apple soda, chicken on the bone, pork fat sandwiches on sesame buns, red rice with dates and pork, river shrimp, shrimp with apples and guava, whole "fragrant fish", fried mashed potato balls with egg and corn, chicken broth soup with goji berries and dates, greens, tea jelly.  Here are a few images.

Chicken broth with dates and goji berries 

The meal included several types of fish

Shrimp with apples and guava

Fried river shrimp

Meals always included greens

Tea jelly

This was our first full day of adventuring in Taiwan and we were welcomed with such generosity! I continue to send thoughts of thanks to Farmer Chen and his wife.  And thanks, too, for the great tea you make!