Friday, March 30, 2012

Weighing in the Tea

 Time to measure the day's work

When I was traveling in Darjeeling last fall, our tour group happened upon a very special scene.  We arrived at a weigh-in station at the right time of day.  This was a very fortunate happenstance! 

Once again, I fall in love with these women who pick our tea  The woman above inspires me!  Her face is lined with hard work and time, and yet is so beautiful.  Her body exudes strength and power.

Waiting for the scales

Today's picking

Getting the weight

Ready for the factory

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

First Flush

Darjeeling tea field 

I thought I was done blogging about Darjeeling, but it's first flush season!!!  :-)  What does that mean, "first flush" season?  And why do people get so excited about it?

First Flush refers to the first growth spurt of the tea bush after the winter rest period.  Picking begins when the tea bush says it's ready and that date varies each year.  Generally, picking is underway by mid March.  First flush teas are the most expensive of the Darjeeling teas.  When I was in India we had a discussion of why this was so.  It is due, in large part, to the intensive efforts required to grow among the steep hills in Darjeeling.  The input required to grow the tea is large and the output per acres is less than other growing regions.  And yet....that first flush tea is very unique in its flavor profile (floral and astringent), it's like nothing else.  Because of this uniqueness, first flush Darjeeling tea is coveted and collected.

Darjeeling tea pickers, taken as we traveled down the mountain

It's worth noting that not everyone loves the flavor of first flush Darjeeling tea.  Some people prefer second or later flushes.  If you have the opportunity, sample a first flush Darjeeling side-by-side with a second flush.  You'll quickly note the differences. 

I'm planning a first flush 2012 order!  I don't expect it to arrive until about May - but you can bet I'll write about it then!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Meatless Monday 1

 Sauteed black trumpet mushrooms on fresh watercress, with bok choy flowers

I've signed up to be a Meatless Monday blogger.  Our household is predominantly meatless, and I thought it would be fun to share some of the meals we enjoy (prepared mostly by the DH, dear hubby).  We choose this way of eating in concern for the environment, along with our health. Plus, we both love vegetables and greens - it's a delicious way to live!

Today's meal is a simple one, prepared by yours truly (for my family - I know, a shock!).  I picked up some cress and mushrooms at a recent farmer's market.  I simpled washed and tore the cress.  Then I sauteed the mushrooms in olive oil and a bit of white wine.  That's it - no salt, no nothing.  I sprinkled the flowers on top and it became this beautiful, healthy, seasonal meal.

I hope you'll share with me some of your favorite meatless meals, too!

About Meatless Monday, from its website:
"Meatless Monday is a non-profit initiative of The Monday Campaigns, in association with the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. We provide the information and recipes you need to start each week with healthy, environmentally friendly meat-free alternatives. Our goal is to help you reduce your meat consumption by 15% in order to improve your personal health and the health of the planet.

Presidents Wilson, Truman and Roosevelt galvanized the nation with voluntary meatless days during both world wars. Our intention is to revitalize this American tradition. We’re spearheading a broad-based, grassroots movement that spans all borders and demographic groups. By cutting out meat once a week, we can improve our health, reduce our carbon footprint and lead the world in the race to reduce climate change."

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Joys of a French Bakery

So hard to choose!

I spent Wednesday morning lingering over a cup of tea and a pinwheel (below) at a wonderful french bakery, La Petite Provence.  It's wonderful what a French pastry and a cup of tea can do!

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Story of My Japanese Tea Bowl

 Thank you, Mom!

Margie, my guide in learning more about Japanese culture and the tea ceremony, encourages her students to choose tea equipment carefully.  No rushing to buy an unknown piece on eBay.  The right tools will come to us in time, and they need to have a story I love this idea.

Here's the story for my first pieces.  The chawan, or tea bowl, is from Japan.  It's special to me because I found it after having learned about what makes a good tea bowl.  What an eye-opening experience!  I had no idea of the thought and detail put into a tea bowl.  Mine is classic in its shape, has the proper foot depth and the correct ridge where the cloth rests as you clean the bowl.  It has a definite front and back, which helps a newbie like me.  And it's a good example of understated beauty

I've named this tea bowl iki wo suru, which means "to breathe" in Japanese. It's meaningful because breathe is my word for the year.  Each time I use this bowl, I will think of of my breath.

Tea bowls often come in specially made boxes, and the box belonging to this bowl is a large part of why I chose it.  The box is beautiful in its own right.  

The crispness of the black natsume (tea caddy), I'm learning, presents a contrast to the more rustic elements often found among the other tea equipment.  What I like about the natsume is the sound made when the lid is placed back on after having scooped out the tea.  It's a simple click that reminds me of something ephemeral from my childhood.

The chasen (whisk) is of central importance.  This humble tool generates the right froth in a bowl of matcha. I have many, many, many more cups to whip to become proficient. This whisk and I will become good companions.

I picked this tea bowl and other equipment on a sunny Spring afternoon, in the company of Margie and another good friend. The items are a gift from my mother for my birthday. I'm sure this is the beginning of many happy memories associated with their use.

The box for my chawan

 This tool (chasen kusenaoshi) holds the whisk and helps keep it in shape

Monday, March 19, 2012

First Farmer's Market

The first Farmer's Market opened on Saturday, and I had a great time.  It was cool but dry, with glorious moments of bright sunshine.  I came home with black trumpet mushrooms (see below) and watercress.  More on that next week, when I begin a new blog series called Meatless Mondays (inspired by this effort).  For now, enjoy these pictures of spring produce.  What's available now in your region?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pomelo Marmalade

Pomelo Marmalade

Are you a marmalade fan?  Not everyone is, but I am!  I love the chewy rind and the sweet-bitter aftertaste that lingers as you sip your tea.  Yum!  When I was in Darjeeling last fall at the Glenburn Tea Estate, I had pomelo marmalade for the first time (from pomelos grown on the estate!).  Finding these giant fruits at our local market, I decided to rope the DH into helping me give marmalade-making a try.  He's a good sport.  It's a lot of work, but I'm pleased with the result.

Never heard of a pomelo?  According to the Farmer's Almanac, they're the predecessor to grapefruits.  They are giant - the largest in the citrus family.  The flesh is juicy and sweet, the rind and pith quite bitter.

The large and small of it - Pomelo with an extra tiny tangerine

Pomelo Marmalade

The DH and I were inspired by this recipe.  We've added more details to it below.  I chose this recipe because of its simplicity, just the fruit and sugar.  You don't need commercial pectin because the fruit is high in natural pectin.  This recipe yielded 10 jars (8 oz) with some left over for immediate consumption.

2 pomelos
4 cups sugar

  1. Put together a game plan.  This is an involved process.  From start to eating marmalade on toast, it took us 4 hours.  We needed 3 pots:
    • One big stockpot for boiling the rinds and then cooking the fruit mixture
    • One big pot for the hot water bath
    • One small pot for the jar lids
  2. Peel the fruits. The leathery rind pulls away with a thick layer of puffy white pith.
  3. Bring a pot of water to boil. Boil the rinds and pith for five minutes, then drain. In the first boiling, they will float.  This isn't a problem as they will take on water and get heavier.  Do this boiling routine two more times (3 total), starting with a fresh pot of water each time.
  4. Extract the fruit.  Leave behind the membranes, any extraneous pith, seeds and stringy segments.  Put in a large bowl and set aside.  Be sure to taste along the way - it's delicious and juicy!
    • Gigantic seeds (and tiny ones, too). They pop right out.  I began calling this the "dinosaur fruit" because it's a very old citrus and also because it's big enough to feed a dinosaur!

    • The DH method of fruit extraction:  With a knife, scrape off remaining pith.  Separate pomelo into two parts and then individual segments.  Pull back the membranes and with fingers, remove the fruit pulp.  Discard seeds along the way.  His segments came out pretty.
    • My method:  Separate fruit into segments, leaving on pith.  Use a knife to cut open a segment.  Remove seeds and with fingers remove the fruit pulp.  My segments came out messy, but I had lots of fun. 
  5. Process the rind/pith with the fruit pulp.  First, tear the rind/pith into chunks.  The pith will be extremely saturated with water.  Do not be concerned.  Now process in batches, with the fruit pulp.
    1. We used a food processor, pulsing the rind/pith and fruit in about three rounds.  Don't over-process, you want this to be chunky.
    • The DH says he'll do this all by hand next time.  The rind/pith cuts very easily.  I'd still use the food processor, but keep out a few segments to do in larger pieces by hand.
  6. Dump into the large pot and add 4 cups of sugar.  Mix well.
  7. Over a medium to medium-low heat, bring to a simmer.  (It didn't take long.)  Simmer for about 45 minutes without a lid, or until it starts to thicken.  Note:  Most of the thickening happens as it cools.
  8. While the fruit is cooking, heat the water for the lids and the hot water bath.  
  9. Once you determine the fruity mixture has thickened, spoon into jars.  No worries if this resembles pomelo relish at this point.  Trust that it will thicken overnight! Process in the hot water bath for 10 minutes.  For information on hot water baths, see this site.
OK, after writing this mega-post, I need a snack!  Toast and marmalade sound good.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tea Towels, Basket and Puzzle

Angela, over at Tea with Friends, is talking today about tea towels she found at Kmart and Ross.  Her post reminded me of these lovely ones I spied recently at anthropologie.
Anthropologie "tea" towel on the far left

I was browsing through a store in Portland called Cargo and stumbled across this lovely little tea set in a basket. Takes me back to when I was about 7 and I had a baby doll in a basket.  Loved it and love this!
Teapot in a basket 

You may recall this great puzzle I received as a Christmas gift.  Well, it's been completed for several weeks. I did most of the edging and a few (very few) of the center pieces.  The DH did the rest!  Are you a puzzler?  I've learned the motto, "Just one more piece!"

The finished masterpiece

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Japanese Incense Appreciation

Japanese incense burner, ash, mica plate and very fragrant resin wood

I've been taking the class Introduction to Japanese Culture through the Tea Ceremony via the Issoan Tea School, and it's so enriching!  I told the DH (dear hubby) it's like going to "tea church."  After each session, I leave feeling both more inspired and centered.  I'm so grateful to have access to this in my community. 

Today we explored haiku and the Japanese incense ceremony.  Kodo, "the way of incense," is as intensive to study as the Japanese tea ceremony. Perhaps even more-so, as I learned that one must be deeply versed in literature and culture.  Historically, this incense appreciation was an all-day affair, with the drinking of sake, poetry and guessing games, fortune-telling and of course the beautiful incense aroma appreciation. 

Today, we practiced writing haiku and learned how to inhale and enjoy the incense from warmed resin wood.  Unlike other types of incense, the one used here has no additives.  

Into the incense burner (above), you place a smoldering piece of charcoal.  Look at how beautifully the charcoal are presented (below).

Then you cover the charcoal with pretty white ash, which you shape with a flat metal device (similar to a butter knife). Sometimes finishing touches are even added with a feather.

Before inhaling the aroma, you exhale fully. Then you can pick up the incense burner and inhale.  The aromas were like nothing I had experienced - exquisite!  We tried three different types of wood.

Our teacher, Margie,  has quite the collection of resin woods from different parts of Asia, including Japan and the locations below. 

Many hours after our class, I continue to conjure the aromas from the warmed wood.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Breakfast, Lunch, Tea

Cook book isn't the right word for this excellent read.  As much art book as anything else, I recommend a look at this one!  (I was able to find it at the library.)  It's the story of Rose Carrarini and her Rose Bakery in Paris. 

I love the straight-forward approach of the book, with large color photos.  Nothing fussy, understated beauty.  Two of my tea friends here in town fell for the book at first sight.  ;-)

There are six scone recipes.  I'm eager to try the pistachio cake with rose water.  The most interesting item must be the broccoli cake, with whole stalks of broccoli in it! 

Do you know this book?  What's your opinion?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Fun, Happy, Pretty

I thought I'd share a few things from the past month that have been fun, happy and/or pretty!  

After a rest stop, waiting to cross the street.  What a line of characters!

At another rest stop, Dragonfly Chai served warm and delicious cups of tea

Spied my first blooming tree this past Sunday!

And the camellias are starting to explode with color

Had this delicious rice treat (with pickled tea leaves) at Behind the Museum Cafe

What's fun, happy or pretty in your life right now?

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Behind the Museum Cafe

Amanda and Chisumi

Welcome to the Behind the Museum Cafe!  This lovely place will become a regular stop for me as I enjoy tea and snacks or a light meal.   The cafe serves Japanese green and matcha teas, herbal infusions, traditional Japanese sweets and other pastries, soups and sandwiches, sake and Japanese beer, and coffee.

One of the co-owners, Tomoe Horibuchi, has taught Japanese cooking and practiced the Japanese tea ceremony for years.  Her experience shines through in the balance of wabi elements (hand-thrown tea bowls, wooden tables) and modern elements (large glass windows, creative foods).

I was here for a business meeting.  We sat at the corner of a large shared table and enjoyed the lovely light through the windows.  The food was delicious and novel, and we had plenty of time and space to attend to our work. 

I wish the Behind the Museum Cafe much success.

Matcha cupcakes, among other delicious treats

 The space is also a gallery, showcasing Japanese Tea bowls and kimono

 Love the yo-yo placemat!

 The matcha set

The matcha brownie, dense and delicious

Thursday, March 01, 2012

My tea article in Sparrow Magazine

I'm excited to announce that I've had an article published in the online magazine, Sparrow.  Below are the first few lines.  You can read the full article here.  Enjoy!

My tea ritual
My fantasy tea ritual begins with a sun that always shines before I rise, involves time spent in meditation, and finishes with a perfectly laid breakfast table. That just isn’t possible for me. Instead, I raise my teacup to the idea of an honest tea ritual, one that is doable within the complexities of our lives.

Here’s my real-life tea ritual, involving the first few minutes of my the rest of this article at Sparrow Magazine