Wednesday, October 29, 2008

October Tea I: East Frisian Tea

My tea theme for October is East Frisian Tea. I recently had the honor to be served East Frisian tea and learn about this tea culture, then shortly after, to serve East Frisian tea to friends on a lovely fall day sitting on a deck in the woods. I am also hosting an East Frisian tea this weekend and will share photos.

East Frisia (Ostfriesen) is a region in the Northwest of Germany. East Frisia connects with the Netherlands.

Most of Germany is a coffee-drinking country, but in this particular region, tea is very popular! East Frisian tea is made from a strong black tea that is sweetened with rock candy and then topped off with real cream.

I had the great privilege of being schooled in this tea method recently from a friend whose sister lives in East Frisia. My friend served tea in delicate blue and white china. This tea is typically served in small cups, which reminded me of espresso cups, as did the tea itself - it is very strong!

To prepare the tea:

1 - Add the rock candy (called Kluntje) to the cup.

2 - Pour the tea. It should be strong and dark. Listen carefully - you will hear the rock candy popping.

3 - Add the cream in clouds, small drops around the edge of the cup. First it looks like this:

And then this:

4 - Look at the lovely design on the surface of the tea, take in the aroma, and savor the flavor.

The combination of rock candy, tea and cream allow for a layered drinking experience, especially if you don't stir the tea. (My friend indicates that East Frisians don't stir.) The first few sips allow the tea and cream to meld, and as you drink more, the sweetness enters.

As an aside, I'd like to point out that the use of cream in tea is unusual. Most tea experts prefer milk in tea, not cream. Cream is too overpowering for most teas. East Frisian tea is an exception! The tea is strong, almost concentrated. My friend said she steeped hers for 8-12 minutes and always keeps it hot on a tea warmer.

East Frisian tea is generally served with cookies or cake.

I am lucky because I have a special tin of tea that came from East Frisia. However, you can find East Frisian tea in the US. Try the Harney & Sons version. I have not tried it, but highly respect the H&S company.

I will share photos early next week from my East Frisian tea this Sunday. I'm very excited!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Winterizing Stephanie

It's been into the 20s at night around here, and frost is on the pumpkin. That means it's time to winterize Stephanie. The DH (dear hubbie) and I keep the house temperature between 65 - 68 degrees. The DH loves it at 65 (or lower) and I love it at 68 (or higher)! To compromize, from now until March, I wear layers. Sweaters and thermal underwear. I just purchased a new long underwear set, which I love.

I spend most of my work day in my little office. With the addition of a small space heater, which looks like an old radiator, I am cozy and warm. I keep the temp in here a smidge warmer than the rest of the house. Each of these things makes for marital peace, a lower heating bill, and less use of non-renewable energy.

How do you winterize yourself or your home? Any tips you can share for saving money and energy, while enjoying the cozy months? Of course, we can always wrap our hands around a warm mug of tea!

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it's then the time a feller is a-feelin' at his best,
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

--First stanza of When the Frost is on the Punkin by James Whitcomb Riley

Friday, October 24, 2008

My First Mixed Media

Here is my first mixed media collage (aside from scrapbooking, which is also mixed media art!).

This was done as an experiment. I just wanted to get started. To be brave and use some of my new paint and art tools (like my brayer). It was a lot of fun, and the result turned out better than I expected. I quite like it! (This is a little reminder to me as I sit as my desk all day!)

I started by layering three pieces of scrapbook paper onto a piece of heavy cardstock. Then I used the brayer to layer in three colors of paint. (The blue is called "Victorian Blue" - isn't that great?) I found the vintage image at a royalty-free site (she's using tape to keep her shoulders back!) and typed up the words in a font that I liked. I used a pink pastel to blush up her cheeks and add the pink edging to the words.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Election Teas

Regardless of your political persuasion, you might find these teas from Pearl Fine Teas interesting!

Obama Blend - Drink for change. From the website: "Let me be absolutely clear, this organic African Red Bush Rooibos based tea is a mix of herbs with hints of Hawaiian fruit. It’s smooth, fresh and lacks bitterness. Environmentally friendly, unexpected, and a little left of center. Contributes to your overall well being and Health(care)."

McCain Blend - Extra Mavericky. From the website: "My friends, this robust classic Black Tea is bold, assertive, has a hint of smoke and is highly caffeinated. A great kick start to the day or a power boost in the afternoon. It’s fundamental difference is that it stands up to cream, sugar (and the Senate). You’ll either like it or you won’t."

Hot Chocolate with Agave Nectar

When I go for a run in the mornings these days, I'm wearing a stocking cap and gloves. The mornings and evenings are chilly! Midday still brings temps near the 60s. I love this weather, especially since I have a nifty new space heater in my office! The kind that looks like an old radiator. I'm cold natured and the DH is warm natured. So we heat up my little work nest and I'm as happy as a fluffed up bird and he's as cool as a cucumber!

In cool weather, I find myself longing for hot chocolate in the evenings about once per week. I'm also trying to reduce my sugar intake. To marry these two desires, I tried a hot chocolate recipe that used agave nectar instead of sugar. I was very pleased with the result! Here is the recipe that I modified a bit. Instead of using fresh milk, I used powdered and it worked fine.

1 cup (8 oz) milk - if using the powdered version, combine 1 cup water with 1/3 cup milk powder
1 Tbsp cocoa
1 Tbsp agave nectar - I used a wee bit less
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon

More info on agave nectar benefits. And, to be fair, concerns about agave. The bottom line - all things (especially sweeteners) in moderation.

Has anyone tried agave nectar as a sweetener in tea?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Deep change

I'm at a moment in my life where I see things stacking in my favor for making a deep change. I need to both actively engage with these things, and at the same time accept that they will hold and support me.

I'm working on some changes in my thinking patterns. I want to let go of internal criticisms that seem constantly with me. This thinking no longer serves me. I want it to slide off me, into the earth, like compost - where it can be turned into something rich and nourishing.

*Image from free Microsoft clipart (with my addition of the text)

Monday, October 20, 2008

NaBloPoMo - Are you ready?

November is not that far away, and I'm staring to think about National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). For the month of November, many bloggers commit to posting every day. I did it last year, and it was both harder and more fun than I imagined.

I'm signing up again this year! Are you in? (You don't have to sign up at the official site to be part of the fun. You can do it on your own, if you prefer.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tea and Yoga

It's back to the mat for me. I truly believe in the physical wellness pyramid of cardio-flexibility-strength and have been somewhat neglectful of the flexibility part of my health. I've found a yoga class that fits with my schedule and with my needs right now. I sit at the desk all day and I run, and those things tend to yield tight hamstrings. Yoga is very good for me, and I do best when I have a class that keeps me honest with committing to practice!

To celebrate finding this class, I made this nifty yoga mat carrier. Isn't it just so cool!?! I used batik fabric that a friend brought me from Africa. Very special fabric - I think it's very well suited for this purpose of helping me be more flexible (literally and figuratively).

And while I'm being introspective, have you ever thought about the connection between tea and yoga? Both encourage centerdness, both encourage reaching high and getting rooted (green tea - pu erh tea), both have great variety and diversity. I've blogged about yoga and tea once before. Others have noticed this connection, too - like this Tea and Yoga Society of San Francisco.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

641 - Dewey Decimal and Tea

Order, control - ah, I love it! (Tho I am working hard on embracing creative messes. That's another story.)

This week I completed "stack reader" training at my local library. It's just so cool! I'll be a library volunteer, which gives me access to the staff bathrooms AND a badge. Plus I get to spend hours and hours floating through the library putting things in order and under control. Heaven? Pretty close!
So if you see me at the library looking with concentration at a row of books, I'm practicing my Dewey Decimal skills. Tip: Tea items are scattered throughout the library, based on the type of work (fiction, non-fiction, etc.) However, you'll find a cluster of tea books in the "641" area of the library. Example: Elizabeth Knight's Tea with Friends. And on this topic, check out this creative mug. It pairs my love of libraries and of tea!

*Images from free Microsoft clipart and the mug manufacturer

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Spiderweb Cake

If you're looking for a spooky and fun Halloween dessert, give this spiderweb cake a try! It's easy! The recipe inspiration came from the current edition of Country Living magazine.
  • Bake a chocolate cake, in two round pans (I used 8-inch).
  • Let the cakes cool. Once they've cooled from the oven, place them in the fridge to get really cold. (Wrapped up so they don't dry out.)
  • When the cakes are cold, trim off the domes so that the cakes stack nicely.
  • Prepare a chocolate ganache (a blend of chopped chocolate and cream). Let the ganache cool just a tad before use.
  • Spread some ganache between the layers, as a glue.
  • Then pour the ganache over the cake. As you can see in the image below, I allowed mine to pool on the sides (I shaped this after the fact). I also smoothed the top with a knife.
  • Let the ganache cool for a bit, then melt white chocolate.
  • Using a pastry bag with a small tip, pipe the white chocolate in a spiral on the top of the cake.
  • Drag a toothpick from center to edge, around the cake, in about 1" intervals. This makes the web, tho for me the white didn't show enough. To remedy that, I piped in more white chocolate along the trenches. I also dribbled some white choc down the side and into the puddles.
  • Garnish with a fake spider (which I didn't have) and enjoy! I took this cake to a party last weekend, and it was popular.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Tea Deck

I am blessed by generous and compassionate friends! I received the Tea Deck as a gift today. The deck of 50 cards is divided into topics of black, oolong, white, green and herbal. For each type of tea, the card discusses the tea's background, its taste, special properties and tips. Also included is a very interesting recipe section.

My friend and I sat on the porch and sipped Formosa oolong (also called Bai Hao) as we looked at the deck. We pulled the Formosa oolong card (one of my all-time favorite teas) and enjoyed the exquisite photo and description as we sipped.

I am delighted with this deck and can hardly wait to review each card! The deck is a gift on so many levels, because the photography is amazing (and I'll use it as inspiration for my photography). In addition, I can use the cards as a meditation guide, to consider what is happening in my larger connected life.

*images from the Tea Deck publishers

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cheddar-Zuke Biscuits

Cheddar-Zucchini biscuits
I thought the picture turned out quite nicely. That's one of my grandma's aprons in the background.

I got this recipe out of The Classic Zucchini Cookbook. It was a library book I borrowed, so I don't have the original recipe anymore, but it was very tasty. (The cheddar is mild, not overpowering.) The biscuits froze well, too. Here is a similar recipe. Next time, I would add a dash of cayene powder.

I also want to share that zucchini and whole wheat are meant for each other. I used all whole wheat in this recipe (unlike what it called for), and the zucchini kept the biscusts moist and marvelous. I have three more portions of shredded zucchini frozen, so I think I'll be adding zukes to lots of baked goods this winter.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Retro Butterick Dress ('52)

Well (and that's an emphasized "well!") - I have just finished my "summer" sewing project, this 1952 Retro Butterick pattern (newly printed, old pattern). I love the styling of the dress, especially the full skirt and the scooped neck in back.

This dress was a snap to construct - it's only three pieces. The hard part, for me, was in the edge finishing. It uses LOTS of bias tape, around the arms and along the sides, both front and back. You see it better in the drawing than on my version. I just couldn't get the bias tape to work. I kept having little pockets of fabric not caught between the tape sandwich. The DH noticed that one of my grandmother's aprons was lined in bias tape, so I took a closer look. She used a zigzag stitch, catching the tape and the fabric with each stitch, so that's what I ended up doing and it helped. Does anyone have hints for sewing bias tape? It's a skill I need to improve!

The dress fit pretty well for me, except for the upper torso. The bust area was a little roomy, and next time, I will take that in a bit more. For this go-round, I'll just wear a push-up bra and call it good! ;-)
I didn't have the "flappage" issues noted on the site, but I got lucky. I chose a woven seersucker fabric, so it looks nearly the same on both sides. The skirt definitely swishes when I walk. It's one of my favorite features of the dress - its fluidness - but I can see how it might look unsightly with a printed (vs. woven) pattern in the fabric. The inside of the skirt is likely to show.

I may also wear it for Halloween. I have the perfect little pillbox hat. I just need to find some white gloves!

Detox Teas

I had an interesting question yesterday about Detox teas, and here's my response. But I'm certainly not the expert on this topic. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, too!

Most detox teas don't have camellia sinensis (the tea plant) in them. Detox teas are typically made from a blend of herbs/roots/fruits, etc. The goal is to help the body remove toxins and other stored-up stuff we no longer need.

I recently tried a detox tea sample from Mighty Leaf. I can recommend it, for its flavor and substance. I don't know if it actually helped me detox, as I wasn't on an intentional detox program. However, I know that Mighty Leaf works hard to make sure its products are environmentally responsible and the tea sachet is biodegradable, so there's good stuff going on there. More details here.

Locally, Bloomingfoods has the Mighty Leaf brand. Given that this is a new product for Mighty Leaf, I don't know if it's in stock at Bfoods.

Other tea companies (Celestial Seasonings, Yogi, etc.) also carry detox products. I'm just not experienced with them. I would encourage choosing an organic product, especially for the purposes of detoxing.
*Photo from

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Teapot Pajama Bottoms

I just sewed my first pair of pajama bottoms, using these instructions. Fun! I found this adorable "tea and cookies" flannel at JoAnn's, and I had a 40% off coupon. Wahoo. The only downside was that I didn't have quite enough fabric to cut out two whole legs, since the fabric is directional. I pressed on, tho, as I was determined to have a pair of comfy lounge pants out of this fabric! I just pieced together the back of one leg (three big sections), and all worked out fine!

I love the sewing instructions. The author uses lots of photos, and they are very helpful. She also has a great sense of humor. It's how I wish all sewing instructions were written! ;-) It's the first project I've started and completed in one (long) sewing session.
I'm so excited; I'm wearing them tonight! Fall has fallen here - the grey and rain came today. We'll still have sunny, crisp days, but we'll also have evenings like tonight - perfect for a cup of tea or, as I made in celebration of my PJs, a mug of hot chocolate.

Antique Tea Strainer

I picked up this antique tea strainer when I was on vacation in New Harmony. I found it at a fantastic antique mall. The strainer caught my eye because I love old enameled kitchen items. I have a few, which came with the DH. They are white with red trim.

The enamel on this is chipped; it's seen wear. That makes me love it more. I can imagine a young wife straining a big jug of tea with this.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Tea and Pregnancy

I had a blog reader recently ask me the following:

Would you be so kind as to recommend a tea that I might enjoy? I'm a long-time serious coffee drinker and have to stop for pregnancy. I'd like to have a cup of tea in the morning with no caff or at least less than coffee (100+ mgs) a little would probably be helpful. I know a lot about selecting good coffee but little to none about selecting good tea.
What a great question! Below are my thoughts, and I'd love for others who prefer caffeine-free (or light) teas to contribute their thoughts, too.

Consider Rooibos
First, I would recommend that you give Rooibos a try. Rooibos (ROY-boss) is a naturally caffeine-free alternative to tea. It's from an African "red bush" plant. It's become very popular in the US in the past few years and is quite flavorful. I find that it has a slightly nutty flavor. It's not truly "tea" because it does not come from the camellia sinensis bush. However, it has many qualities of tea, such as a pleasing flavor and aroma, and blending well with herbs, spices and fruit oils. One of my friends who has been recently pregnant highly recommends this tea.

If you have a natural foods store (your local coop, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, etc.) or tea shop/retailer (local tea room, Teavana, Tealuxe, etc.) near you, it will be easy to find loose Rooibos (sometimes called red tea). If these sources are not near you, look for bagged varieties from Republic of Tea or other brands.

Go for herbals
Also consider herbal teas (also called herbal infusions or tisanes). Again, these technically are not tea because they don't contain any of the tea leaf itself. They are made from dried herbs (mint, chamomile, etc), roots, berries and spices (cinnamon, ginger, etc.). There are many varieties to choose from. I like the Celestial Seasonings brand. Do read this article from the American Pregnancy Association for its advice on consuming herbal teas.

If you would prefer a true cup of tea, I suggest you go for the double-steeping method. Caffeine is highly water soluble. In the first steeping, a cup of tea gives up ~60% of its caffeine. Simply drain this first steeping, and reuse the leaves for a second steep. (Loose leaves work better than tea bags for this double-steeping.) I can't give you exact amounts of caffeine per cup, as it varies greatly by the tea itself, but that second steeping will contain significantly less caffeine than the first.

Decaf teas
Decaf teas are another option, tho they are last on my list for two reasons. 1 - The name is misleading. Realize that it still has trace amounts of caffeine in it. No tea is truly caffeine-free, even decaf ones. 2 - Some methods for making decaf tea use very harsh chemicals. Not what you want to put into your body at this time. Look for the "CO2" process.

OK, those are my ideas - what tips do the rest of you have to offer?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Saving Your Pennies with Tea

Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without
--saying from the Great Depression era

I don't know about you, but with all the doom and gloom descending upon the economy these days, I'm giving extra thoughts to ways I can tighten the spending belt and save my pennies. I'm thrifty by my nature, so it's always a fun challenge for me to find ways to save money.

Are you using your loose tea to help you save money?

I think of high-quality loose tea as an affordable luxury. One ounce of loose tea will make approximately 8 - 12 cups of tea. That's assuming the teaspoon per cup ratio (give or take) and also assuming single consumption. You can extend this tea further by re-using it!

Not many people realize that you can re-steep loose teas. Yes! This is one of their joys. In addition, since caffeine is highly water soluble, the second pot you brew will have significantly less caffeine (around 60%). Here's what I do: 1 - Make a pot of fresh leaves in the morning. 2 - Stick the used leaves (in my cotton tea sock) in a mug and put them in the fridge or set them on the counter. 3 - Reuse those same leaves in the afternoon/evening (with less caffeine).

Think about the magnification principle here. Now, you can get between 16 and 24 cups of tea from your one ounce. That's pretty cost efficient! Many of my Serendipity Teas prices hover around $2.50/oz. At 16 cups/ounce, that's 15.6 cents per cup. Try finding that at Starbucks!

Some green and oolong teas stand up to multiple steepings. You may want to slightly increase the steep time and/or temp for the second or third steep. (This is where a tea tasting notebook comes in handy - keep notes about how you like that second steep - at what temp/time?)

So, drink your tea wisely and reuse those leaves! And when you're done, use them as compost.

How are you saving your pennies these days, tea-wise or other?

Photos from