Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Picnic Indoors

As a belated Valentine's Day gift for the DH, I recently made dinner, as in a real dinner and not my normal pasta-corn-peas-greens-cheese routine. I wanted to have an indoor picnic in front of the fire, and I wanted to replicate some of the foods from the Darjeeling River Picnic

I think it turned out great!  I made this Salad Nicoise and these Carmelized Bananas.

When was the last time you had a picnic indoors? 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Early Spring

Four-paneled screen, gift from Sweetcakes 

Early Spring

Harshness vanished. A sudden softness
has replaced the meadows' wintry grey.
Little rivulets of water changed
their singing accents. Tendernesses,

hesitantly, reach toward the earth
from space, and country lanes are showing
these unexpected subtle risings
that find expression in the empty trees.

~Rainer Maria Rilke

Does anyone know the name of this flowering bush?  It's been blooming for a few weeks.
Daffodils and lettuce on the balcony.  Some neighboring daffodils have begun to bloom in the past few days.

The heather is coming into lushness

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bergamot Citrus

A Bergamot Orange

Imagine my delight when I recently found bergamot orange at the local market!  :-)  Only a handful were available, and one promptly came home with me.  As you know, the essential oil from this citrus rind is used to scent Earl Grey tea.

I was surprised to learn that it's called an orange, as it looks jut like a lemon.  Read more about the fruit's origins here.  A few sniffs assured me that I had the right thing.  That "Earl Grey" aroma was subtle in the fresh fruit, but certainly there.

The juice, while not quite as sour as a lemon, is puckery and tart.  I found it to be very nice in my morning hot-water-and-lemon routine.  I found the aroma to be most fully present when I grated the peel for lemon zest.  Again, it's more subtle than your tea.  The tea would be scented with a concentrated essential oil, whereas here I'm using the oil in its natural proportions.

I'm not sure if the market has any more bergamot oranges.  If I'm lucky, I will try a batch of bergamot curd.  Oh, wouldn't that be delightful!

Have you ever tried a fresh bergamot orange?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Red Robe Teahouse

The Red Robe Teahouse

There's a new teahouse and cafe in Portland, The Red Robe.  The location, at NW Davis and NW Third in Chinatown, is conveniently near the Chinese Garden and the MAX (light rail).  

Pearl, preparing my tea

Co-owner Pearl and her daughter welcomed me and prepared my tea.  It was a sunny day and I enjoyed my window seat view.  I felt at-ease and took time to write in my journal while nibbling on the dumplings and sipping the tea. 

I chose a 2006 Menghai Imperial Pu-erh.  I was impressed with the selection of other teas.  It's a cultivated offering, with four options in each category of green, oolong, black and pu-erh.  Choose one of two styles, a teacup infuser or gongfu preparation.
Gongfu style tea

I overheard a customer inquire about tea-to-go.  I was VERY impressed to hear that yes, tea could be taken out, but the options were limited to the lychee black or jasmine pearls.  The other teas would not lend themselves to positive brew-and-go experiences; they are meant to be enjoyed with multiple infusions.  Thank you to these small business owners who prioritize the customer's experience with the tea! 

Pearl's collection of "tea pets."  When you pour hot tea or water over them,
a bubble emerges from their lips.

If you are able to visit, I think you'll enjoy the experience.  Have some tea and a snack, lunch or dinner.  Browse the pretty tea things for sale, and ask Pearl about her love of "tea pigs." 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Darjeeling River Picnic and an Earthquake

The Rungeet River

I plan to do more picnicking this year!  An inspiration was this picnic, one that sets the bar high!  The Rungeet River runs through the Glenburn Tea Estate and we traveled from ~3,000 feet to ~800 to picnic near the water's edge.  The water was high and rushing when we visited, but at other times it flows gently enough to wade across.  Should you have the pleasure to visit, bring along your spirit of adventure!  The trip to the river is full of magical vistas and heart-in-mouth 4x4 travel down the mountain (especially in monsoon season).  

The Glenburn Lodge

We gathered in the lodge, appreciating the screened-in open air, yet protected from the occasional drizzle.  We started with shandies and fresh-squeezed lemonade.  The picnic feast included barbequed pork and chicken, quiche, salad nicoise, chicken salad, foccacia bread, tomatoes, potato salad, and grilled banana for dessert. 
The feast

And of course, cups of Darjeeling tea!

Even the china matches the lush green

The return trip was surreal. The region experienced an earthquake; the epicenter was about 50 miles away in Sikkim.  We didn't feel the shaking, as we were in our own quaking 4x4 rides up the mountain.  As we entered a small village, we were met with general chaos as water gushed from a broken pipe.  Sanjay, the plantation manager, was driving the lead jeep (I was in this).  He stopped to assess the situation and learned of the quake.  We continued up the mountain (we were almost to the top), so that he could return and help with the water shutoff.  A few moments later, Sanjay received a phone call.  The 4x4 behind us could not pass the village, a landslide had occurred in the few short moments between our passing and theirs.  Sanjay dashed back to retrieve the others and then sped away again to ensure the villages were safe and to check the damages.  I was relieved to learn that no one was seriously injured on the plantation. 

Safely arrived back to the bungalows, we settled our still-trembling nerves with cups of tea.  At dinner that evening, as the generators provided electricity, the guests shared earthquake stories.  A bonding experience, a humbling reminder of the power of nature.  The quake wasn't giant in California standards (magnitude 6.9), yet it was quite impactful near the epicenter, a remote area with limited access to rescue equipment.  I went to bed that night with immense gratitude for our safety and prayers for the hard-hit areas. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Peace and Love

Buddhist monks and nuns, chanting and praying

How intense, the colors of the clothing on these monks as they chanted and prayed in Xian, China.  The colors made me think of Valentine's Day, that nowadays secular holiday that can be traced through all kinds of religious manifestations, back to its roots in celebrations of spring and fertility. 

I believe these people who have devoted their lives to religious work are praying for the betterment of all humanity, for peace and love.  That's a fitting message for today.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Look Inside the Glenburn Tea Factory

Smelling freshly-made tea, just seconds out of the dryer

We've traveled to West Bengal, India, from Siliguri up the mountain into Darjeeling, onto the Glenburn tea estate, through the tea fields, and now into the factory.

Darjeeling tea is prized for its its unique flavor profiles.  First flush teas (picking will begin in March) can command very high prices.  The general process of making Darjeeling tea is this:
  • Withering
  • Rolling
  • Oxidation (often called Fermentation, tho technically that's a different chemical process)
  • Drying
  • Sorting and Packaging
Withering Trough, Photo by Dan Robertson (World Tea Tours)

The withering trough is a wind tunnel with a nylon mesh lining for the tea.  The purpose of withering is to reduce the moisture content of the leaf and to make the leaf supple.  Yet it's more than that, too.  Withering greatly impacts the flavor of the final product.  Longer withers yield different flavor profiles, and it is up to the skilled factory workers to know what is right for this flush of tea.  One of these experts remains with the withering tea all night, constantly checking the state of the leaf.  The trough begins with about three inches of leaf, and it withers down to about one inch.

"The tea is going to call the shots.  The human must observe and respond."  ~Sanjay, Glenburn Plantation Manager

"Super Twist" rolling machine - love that name!

Rolling used to be done by hand and foot.  Today, most tea is rolled by machine.  The rolling machine works in a circular manner, to twist and style the tea.  During rolling, the leaf's cellular walls are ruptured, thus beginning the oxidation process. 

The next step, oxidation, "determines the cup."  Oxidation is where it all comes together.  I'm over simplifying, but think of it as this season's unique tea + withering + oxidation gets us to the flavor profile in the cup.  When the tea has reached its desired state, it's moved into the dryer.  (See top pic.)  Drying stops the chemical reactions of oxidation.  Then off to the sorting rooms to be graded by size.
The sorting room leader

The women in the sorting room cover their faces because it can be dusty work, but it's out of the elements, and is a highly desired job.  Six different grades of tea (based on size and wholeness) will be sorted.

Sanjay and tour leader, Dan, inspecting the final product

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Pretty Things

A branch from an unidentified tree (perhaps crabapple).
We snipped this and encouraged it to bloom inside. 

I hope you enjoy these two bits of prettiness!  I love bringing the outdoors in, and forcing branches is a particularly fun way to do that.

My next blog entry will return us to Darjeeling. It's been a crazy-busy work week for me, and I've not had the time needed for a detailed posting.

The photo below shows how I repurposed some tin cans.  I love the bright colors.  I saw this idea on Pinterest. The crafter recommended spray paint, and I now know why! Painting onto metal (without priming) yields streaks. I finally embraced the streaks as texture. ;-) I used fabric (secured with rubber cement) for the adornments.

Pretty tins

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Dragon Has Arrived

The year of the Dragon (Water Dragon, specifically) has come to be!  As the celebrating come to a close, I want to share pictures from the Chinese Garden and also pictures from a Chinese New Year tea tasting.

The Chinese Garden, decorated with red hanging lanterns and colorful paper lanterns on the rocks

A garden volunteer told me that Wintersweet always blooms for Chinese New Year!

Chinese New Year party

At the Chinese New Year party, we enjoyed all kinds of delicious foods including long life noodles, citrus (to welcome wealth), Chinese tea eggs, pot stickers, pumpkin seeds, Chinese buns filled with lotus and bean paste, mung bean cakes, sesame cookies, coconut cookies and much more. 

For the tea tasting, we worked our way through 8 various teas, focusing mostly on teas grown in Wuyi. 
  • Golden water turtle (Shui Jin Gui)
  • Iron Arhat (Tie Luo Han)
  • Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao)
  • A mix of Iron Goddess of Mercy (Ti Kuan Yin) and Golden Osmanthus
  • Sui Xian (Water Sprite)
  • Rou Gui (Cinnamon)
  • Big Red Robe #2 (Da Hong Pao)
  • Old Growth Oriental Beauty (Bai Hao) - not Wuyi
My DH is a Dragon, so here's to wishing him prosperity and health, and the same to you.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Camellia, Meet Camellia

 Camellia Sinensis

Both of these lovelies are in my home today.  The tea plant, above, was a gift from Marmalady and her green-thumbed hubbie.  Earlier today, DH snuck in the bud below and placed it on my desk for me to discover. 

Notice the similarities between the two - both have a similar leaf shape with serrated edges.  I've never heard of anyone making tea with Camellia Japonica, until I found this blog posting!  You can also eat the flowers!  (I haven't tried either.)
Camellia Japonica
The DH and I mark the beginning of spring on Feb 1st.  On this day, we always have fresh flowers in the house.  Around here, nature does too!  Snowdrops are blooming and daffodils poke far out of the ground.  Pansies are doing well and people are putting out the primrose. Spring comes early and stays a looooong time.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
~Thich Nhat Hanh

There may be fewer signs of spring where you live, but they exist if you look closely!  How do you honor the anticipation of spring?

Note: I'll get back to my Darjeeling stories soon, I just needed a little break.  Happy almost weekend!