Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Happy Winter Solstice!

Happy Winter Solstice! During these 24-hours of 2005, we have the most "night." Instead of mourning the darkness, I like to think about having more time to look at the stars. To celebrate, the DH and I went for a walk this morning to watch the sun rise. I came back and had a yummy bowl of oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar, and Black Pearl tea.

We'll mark the sun set tonight, as well. Actually, that would be about now.

Starting tomorrow, all of us in the Northern hemisphere begin the slow tilt toward the sun. Reminds me of the song, "Here comes the sun...."

Gotta go catch the fading light!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Easy Almond Biscotti Recipe and Kitchen Mishaps

Thanks to all who made comments to my Chai post!

I spent a lovely evening with my neighbor eating cheese and crackers, drinking hot cocoa (with Irish cream), oolong tea, and an artisanal green with a red clover inside. We also made yummy almond biscotti. (Thanks for your help & companionship, neighbor!)

After a few slight mishaps that the DH (dear husband) corrected, the biscotti continued along just fine and turned out lovely. (Mishaps: I forgot to take the baking stone out of the oven and it was smoking up the entire house! Plus, I put one of the biscottis on the lowest rack of the oven and it almost burned (this added to the smoke).) This was my first attempt at biscotti. Let me just say that next time, I'll know the ropes. >-) Remember, I'm NOT the master cook in the family. That title happily belongs to the DH.

Here's the recipe...

*Basic Almond Biscotti*

3/4 cup Butter1 cup Sugar
Dash almond extract4 Eggs3 cups all-purpose flour3 teaspoons baking powder1/2 teaspoon Salt1 teaspoon Anise seed1 cup Almonds -- coarsely chop
Two greased cookie sheets

Preheat oven to 350 and TAKE OUT the cooking stone. >-) Cream butter and sugar until light; add almond extract. Add eggs, one at a time beating after each addition; continue beating until very light and fluffy.

Mix flour, baking powder, salt and anise seed together, then mix into creamed mixture. Stir in nuts, divide dough into half.

Form dough into 2 loaves, 1 1/2 inch wide and the length of each baking sheet. Place onto greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350~F for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cut loaf diagonally into 3/4 inch slices.

Return to oven, bake at 375~F 10 minutes longer, or until toasted and crispy.Variation: Omit anise seeds; add 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 1 teaspoon orange zest; when baked, slice each loaf diagonally and return to oven for 5 to 10 minutes to brown.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

My Perfect Chai - What's Yours?

I'm hoping to get some comments from this post. What's your "perfect chai" recipe? I've found that each chai drinker has his/her own magic formula.

Here are two of my favorites. This was actually from an earlier Newsletter on my Serendipity Teas site.

"I am on a quest for the perfect chai. I have taken a dislike to those premixes. They’re too sweet or too milky or not spicy enough, or something! I’ve finally found two that, for me, are always a success! I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I do.

Black Chai (without milk or sweetener)
For when I’m in a spicy – and not sweet – mood.
1+ teaspoon Serendipity Teas Chai Spice

6 - 8 oz water
2 - 3 slivers fresh ginger root, peeled
Pot for boiling
Tea cup

Add the peeled ginger root to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the Chai Spice tea and turn off the burner. Steep until desired strength. (I prefer about 3 minutes.) Pour the liquid (through the strainer) into the tea cup. Enjoy!

Chai Latte (with milk and sweetener)
For when I’m in the mood for an indulgence.
1+ teaspoon Serendipity Teas Chai Spice
6 - 8 oz water
1 teaspoon maple syrup (the real stuff - honey is OK, too)
Tea sock or filter
Large mug
Milk (Rice and soy work, too)
Frother (Pampered chef sells a nice one)

Bring the water to a boil. Add the Chai Spice to your tea sock or filter. Pour the boiling water over the tea sock/filter in the large mug. Steep until desired strength. (I prefer mine about 3.5 minutes. I make it strong because I’m adding to it.) Stir in 1 teaspoon of real maple syrup. Once the steeping is complete, top off with milk – to taste. Froth the liquid until a nice foam forms on top. Trust me, you’ll need a big mug with plenty of space on top for the frothing. Indulge!"

Monday, December 12, 2005

Zip Plus Four

Doing some holiday shipping? Review this yahoo article on what those extra four digits at the end of a zip code will do for you.

Holiday Tea Table

Happy Monday! I was browsing through some old photos, and came across this snapshot. It's one of my favorites! This lovely tea table is from a tea party I hosted (via Serendipity Teas) a few years ago. Notice the tree-shaped napkins? Those took me forever to fold! Lots of ironing included.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Moments of Clarity...

I walked to get my hair cut in the sleet today. About a mile and a half. Wind in my face. On the way there, I was in a grumbly mood. I was thinking, "Why am I working so hard to save the environment for other people's children?" (I was having these thoughts in response to the number of SUVs I saw pumping out noxious black fumes and driving way too fast in the sleet.) Something must have happened during the hair cut, because on my way home, walking in even heavier sleet, I had one of those precious experiences in which I knew the moment was perfect. I needed nothing more in life than to be walking in the sleet. In all seriousness, I could have died at that moment and felt utter contentment. The moment passed, as these moments do for me. (Maybe someday I'll figure out how to have them stick around!) But the story wasn't over for me. When I returned home, an e-mail from a friend was waiting for me with this quote (from a Howard Zinn documentary).

"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness... And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

Quite serendipitous, I think. Ponder that with a cup of tea.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Etiquette Tip #3 - Inside Voices, Please!

Here's the scenario: I'm in a restaurant enjoying lunch with a friend. We're having an in-depth conversation about something important. However, we keep needing to ask each other to repeat what we've said because the occupants of the table next to us are talking very, very loudly. This is a prime example of grown-ups forgetting to use "inside voices." It's a problem I'm noticing at an alarming rate!

The DH believes part of the problem is due to the constant sensory bombardment in our society. He thinks that folks are so often "plugged in" that they forget what it's like to have quiet conversation. Reference points become talking over an iPod, rather than over a table in a public setting. It's a plausible theory.

In terms of proper etiquette, your conversation in a restaurant should reach the ears of your table partners, but not beyond. Even though you're in a public setting, your conversation should be private. The same philosophy goes with cell phone use. Please, do not subject me to your latest boyfriend breakup or plans for the weekend. If you need to make a cell phone call, the best option is to find a private location and keep your voice down. In restaurants, cell phones should be off or on vibrate. If you have to make a call, step into the lobby or, even better, outside. And please, keep your voice down!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Candy Cane Tea and Earl Grey Cocoa

Check out this creative Candy Cane tea recipe from Morning Coffee and Afternoon Tea!

And, this recipe for Earl Grey Cocoa, from Tea Posur, sounds wonderful!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Stephanie's Ego Bread (Cranberry Walnut)

These lovely photos are the result of a weekend of ego-boosting bread baking. They are cranberry-walnut mini-bundts, and they go delightfully with tea! I made several of them for a bake sale fundraiser, and the DH provided the marvelous packaging. The first day, I contributed 5 packs. They sold for $5 a piece, within the first hour. Well, this stroked my ego for sure, so I made another batch on Friday night to sell on Saturday. I've listed the recipe all the way to the bottom to see my variations for the mini-bundts. My favorite thing about this recipe, aside from the mini bundts being very pretty, is that it uses fresh cranberries. Enjoy!

Stephanie's Ego Bread (AKA Cranberry-Walnut)
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup chopped cranberries (they chop up really well in a hand nut chopper)
1/2 cup water (plus a couple of tablespoons, if needed)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Loaf Instructions
Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Grease and lightly flour a loaf pan.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium mixing bowl. Beat in the eggs with an electric mixer. Stir in the water, vanilla, and cranberries.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stir in the wet mixture and chopped nuts. Add a couple of tablespoons of water if the batter seems too dry. Pour the batter into a loaf pan. Bake for ~50 - 55 min. Test with a toothpick.

Mini Bundt Instructions
I have a mini-bundt pan (6 molds) with a dark nonstick surface. Because of this, I reduce the oven temp by 25 degrees to 325.

Grease well the insides of the bundt pan, going slowly to get all the crevices. (The instructions with the pan suggest a light flouring, too. I forgot to do this, and it worked just fine.)

Follow the instructions above to make the batter. Spoon the batter into the mini-bundts.

Cook for about 35 minutes. Start checking with a toothpick about 32 min.

Remove the mini bundt pan from the oven and let it cool for at least 20 minutes before trying to remove the bread. Turn out the mini bundts onto a wire cooling rack. Let cool completely, then dust with powdered sugar (it looks like snow!).

Friday, December 02, 2005

The British Biscuit Poll

"Biscuit" generally means cookie to those in England. See this fun analysis of the British favorites. It's interesting to note that we don't have many of these cookies, or they are named something entirely different over here.

Biscuit Analysis

For you data lovers, check out the advanced analysis.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

On Being Dizzy...

And I'm not blond! My hair just takes on natural streaks in the summer. >-) Anyway, a quick warning: this post is not about tea. But it's a fun one, nonetheless.

The DH (dear husband) and I went
contra dancing last week. Contra dancing, for me, always promises to be an evening of great fun. Contra dancing is like what happened in the movie Shakespeare in Love. You dance in pairs (doesn't require male/female) and the group of dancers forms two long lines, facing each other. The dance is to an 8-step count and the music really hammers out this rhythm - it's hard to miss, even for those who don't have a musical ear. If you can walk 8 steps and turn around, you can contra dance! The dance steps are called out and you progress up or down the line of dance. You will dance with both your partner (who stays the same) and neighbor (who changes each 8 counts). It's kind of like square dancing, only without the crazy clothes and in long lines vs. squares. Hippie types (both original and new) tend to be drawn to this, as do those who appreciate good, live music. The music is almost always live! That rocks! There are a fair number of non-hippies, too, so don't be scared.

There are a standard set of dance steps - balance and swing, allamande, gypsy, do-si-do, left and right star, etc. Contra dancing tends to be done by a faithful crew - many of them having danced for years and years. But the cool thing is that newcomers are ALWAYS welcome! And, if you get lost during a dance, someone will just nudge you along the line.

Now, coming to the dizzy part....the swing step has you move, with your partner, in a small circle. Each partner leans back and pivots around a center, so that you're propelling each other around. When done well, you can really be fluid and build up some speed. It's very fun!

Not to brag, but I'm a pretty good follower. Experienced dancers pick up on this quickly. What this means is that I often get swung with a flourish! Swung really fast, then with a twirl out. Spin-spin-spin. Last week, I danced about 5 contras in a row. By dance 3, I was in a perpetual state of dizziness. And, my stomach hurt from laughing so much! I fought the dizzy state at first - trying all the tricks of focusing on my partner's eyes (or nose, or buttons), focusing on the same spot on the wall, etc. It wasn't working. Somewhere in dance 3, I decided to let go and just "be" dizzy.

Here's the cool part - when I decided to stay dizzy, everything was OK. I didn't fall down, I didn't trip, I didn't knock someone over. I was able to keep dancing. I just had to change my expectation and frame of reference. I let dizzy be my normal (albeit altered) state. It was actually really interesting to experience this - my body felt different, but I could still control it and be a smooth dancer. I just trusted myself and that a hand would be there to catch me when I was done spinning! This could be a metaphor for life, at least for me.