Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bringing Your Own Tea into a Restaurant

I had lunch recently with a friend and she brought along her own tea for us to share, along with beautiful handmade cups and a thermos of hot water.  She graciously explained to the hostess that we intended to make our own tea, and offered to pay the restaurant for a tea service (they kindly declined charging us).  It's a smart approach for the restaurant to allow us to brew our own tea. I will go back. ;-)

Sharing lunch and this special tea (direct from Wuyi, China - a Wuyi yan cha) was wonderful! 
Have you ever taken your own tea into a restaurant?  I think I'll make a habit of it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sitting Alone and Sipping

Matcha Latte at Behind the Museum Cafe

I'm sitting alone, sipping this matcha latte, and I love the being aloneness.  Many people do this nowadays, alone but not really alone with the laptop and the smart phone and Facebook and Twitter.  Are we ever really alone anymore?

I've long been comfortable dining alone.  Work travels trained me to this and once I got my feet under me as a grown up (somewhere in my late 20's), I seldom felt awkward.  My comfort in solo dining matured from something I tolerated to something I happily anticipated. 

Coffee shops know how to handle the lone sipper, but many restaurants still do not.  In fact, one of my top criteria for evaluating a restaurant is based upon how well it treats me as a solo diner.  Here's an example of excellent service, and it happened to be at a tea room (coincidentally).  Many years ago, I visited the St. James Tea Room (as I did often), and this day I was by myself.  I wanted to treat myself and I wanted to be alone.  Mary Alice, the owner, seated me.  When realizing I would be a party of one, she smiled broadly and said  - and I still remember it -  "Oh, I love to have tea alone!  It's so nice to sit and read or think without being interrupted.  I hope you enjoy this time."  Her welcoming attitude put me at ease as she showed me to a nice table.  By contrast, at other restaurants, I've been sequestered to the two-top crammed into a back corner. 

When I'm dining alone, I feel powerful.  Don't misinterpret me - I love dining with other people, as well, but that is for a social purpose.  Alone, I am taking myself on a date.  I practice being confident in the world (rather than thinking people are looking at me/feeling sorry for me because I'm alone/etc./etc./etc.).  I take in the environment.  I write or read - or not.  I listen to myself and that is the most important part.

Do you enjoy dining alone?  I encourage you to give it a try.  Take yourself on a date to a restaurant you've always wanted to try.  Table for one.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Orange is a Happy Color

Orange helps me to smile and so it shows up often in my life. 

Above:  In my new Beehive teacup (now in the office to battle the dull grey cube)
Below:  Glads from the garden
And how perfect this new table runner (from a very generous friend), the red-orange and gold
blending in happy tones

Friday, July 20, 2012

Raw Oregon Berry Pie

I tried this recipe recently and was pleased!  It's raw, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and free of processed-sugar (sweetened with dates).  It's full of really good healthy stuff and lots of flavor.

Raw Oregon Berry Pie (New Seasons recipe to which I've clarified and added my notes)
  • 2 cups raw nuts, your choice (I used pecans and walnuts)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups pitted dates (dried)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 6 cups of fresh berries, your choice (I used blueberries and cherries for the filling and blueberries, cherries and raspberries for the top)
Cover 1 cup of dates with water and set aside.  In a blender or food processor, pulse the 2 cups of nuts and sea salt until you have medium crumbs.  Add the remaining cup of dates and pulse until there are no more large chunks of dates.  Pour this into a 9-inch pie pan and press evenly to create a crust.  (I used a spring form pan.)  Put in freezer for at least 15 minutes while you finish the rest of the pie.

Drain the dates.  Place 2 cups of fresh berries, lemon juice and drained dates into the blender/food processor.  Process until smooth.  If desired, slice any large berries into pieces.  Mix the sliced fruit into the wet filling and pour into cold pie crust.  Spread out evenly.  (I did not mix mine.  I spread the filling, then placed the berries on top.)  Ready to eat or be put in the fridge! 

After chilling a bit, I was able to slice into wedges.  The flavor is wonderful and the crust is amazing!  Next time, I think I will just do fresh fruit on top and skip the filling . It was tasty, but I prefer my fruit whole.  I've never been a smoothie fan.  If you are, then go for the filling.  It's good.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Drinking Vinegars

It's such a Portland thing...chef of famed Pok Pok restaurant was wandering through the aisles in an Asian market and noticed the "drinking vinegar" on the shelves.  He tried it, liked it, and decided to bring it to his restaurant.  And now it's all the rage (at least out here).  

But drinking vinegars have actually been around for some time.  They're quite popular in Asia.  And they've part of an old-timey drink called a shrub

Blossom Vinegars is a local business making vinegars of all sorts, including the drinking variety.  The owner sells at my local farmer's market.  The DH and I brought home a bottle of the Wildflower Honey Cherry drinking vinegar.  When 2 Tbsp are mixed with 6-8 ounces of sparkling water, it makes a refreshing drink!  It's a nice balance of tart and sweet, and very refreshing.

Have you heard of drinking vinegars?  Tried them?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My First Chakai

I attended my first Japanese Tea chakai yesterday.  The advanced students at the Issoan Tea School put on this event to celebrate Tanabata, and to welcome the newer students.  I felt very honored to be invited! 

Tea ceremonies are built around a theme, with clues and nods to the theme revealed throughout.  Our theme was the story of the stars Vega (Orihime) and Altair (Hikoboshi), separated by the Milky Way.  The two lovers are allow to meet only once each year (on the seventh day of the seventh month).

The team that prepared this chakai worked for weeks to plan in great detail.  They decided upon the theme, thoughtfully selected the utensils, prepared the stories that go with the utensils, chose the foods and the poetic names, planned what kimono they would wear, made the sweets, and put their creative powers together for the extra-special touches and surprises throughout the event, all tied into the theme.  On the day of the event, they cleaned (an important part of the process), prepared the food, laid out the utensils, selected and arranged the flowers, hung the scroll, readied the matcha and the water, got dressed in kimono, and many other things of which I am unaware, all in time to greet us calmly. (Note:  I am leaving out some of the specifics here, as it seems appropriate to leave the intimate details to the group that gathered.)

My experience of this tea ceremony was like opening a special gift wrapped in many beautiful layers, the entirety being revealed slowly and deliberately.  

I was so captured by the matcha tea-making (iced, imagine that!), and the stories, that I forget to do a few things.  I will forgive myself for the blunders.   Eventually my learning will integrate (practice, practice) and I will be able to both listen and move.  One of the most beautiful parts of this chakai was that regardless of the inexperience of the guests, we were made to feel special, welcome, and not at all awkward.

My sincere gratitude to the Senpai (the advanced students who put on the event), the First Guest who cheerfully guided us through, and to Margie-Sensei, for the use of her tea room and the depth of instruction she offers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sencha Tea Set

Hand-painted with motif of people making tea

This tea set has a story.  My friend J, knowing I've been studying Japanese Tea, sent me the eBay link.  It was a great deal, but I  was away on business travel and didn't have the mindspace to consider this.  It sat for two weeks, I didn't make an offer, and J bought it!  ;-)

FYI - The little pitcher vessel in front (above) is used to cool the water before brewing.
The complete set

J pulled it out at a recent tea gathering. Turns out the seller had been in our own back yard!  I loved the set, of course, and was regretting that I had let it slip, but happy that it came to a friend.  That friend kindly offered for me to buy the set...and so now it's mine.  (And she can use it any time she wishes!)   
Lovely sencha

I also had the chance to sample some delicious sencha teas with another tea friend.  Thank you!  Look at the gorgeous green.  See the sediment in the bottom?  That's desirable.  Japanese tea makers add back in particulate matter.  In this style of tea, it augments the flavor, look and body of the tea and wastes nothing.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Agony and Pepper Toast

It's like being reunited with an old friend!  I have long been searching for the book The Agony of the Leaves: the Ecstasy of My Life with Tea by Helen Gustafson.  (I wrote about her here.)  The book is out of print and online copies could be quite expensive.  My library didn't even have a copy. Many times had I pined for one of her funny stories or a recipe. 

Imagine my delight when I recently found a copy (for a very reasonable price) at Powell's Books.  Sweetcakes was with me and must have been my lucky charm.  I re-read the book, cover to cover, with great delight.  Helen tells her story of tea, from her childhood afternoon teas to the heady days in San Francisco when tea was being reborn in the US.  She was there.  She took charge of the the tea service at Chez Panisse, educating the staff in clever ways and finding real-world solutions to difficult problems (like how to get busy wait staff to put fresh water in the boiler).
Here is one of my favorite recipes from the book, Pepper Toast.  Helen had borrowed it from a friend (and since I've loaned out the book, I can't recall whom).  It's quite simple!
* Take some good bread and butter it.
* Sprinkle liberally with pepper.
* Broil until golden and crunchy. 
I used my toaster oven.  She indicates that it also works well in an upright toaster - adding the butter and pepper after the fact.  Either way, this IS delicious!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Considering Chamomile

Chamomile tea fans - please come to the rescue!  I confess, I am not a fan.  First, chamomile is of the ragweed family and I avoid it due to allergies.  Second, the plant (in my opinion) is stinky.  Plucking it out of the fields where it grows wild, the aroma overwhelms me. 

To its credit, the little flowers are pretty and hardy!  I like them as a bouquet. 

The DH sampled the herbal tea for me. He described it as NOT vegetal, lightly sweet with a hint of licorice.
For those chamomile fans out there, help me out!  What do you love about this herbal tea?

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


Sweet red bean paste centers, covered with rice-flour dough (mochi)

In the Japanese Tea Ceremony, guests enjoy a sweet before consuming the matcha (both thin and thick versions).  The sweet provides contrast and complement to the intense matcha tea.  Over the past six months, I've discovered that I love Japanese sweets!  They are unlike American sweets: no creams, fats or heavy sugars.  In fact, they are often comprised of sweetened bean paste or simple pressed sugars.  But they are poetic, textural, beautiful and to my liking.

My teacher, Margie-sensei, has shared a recipe for making a daifukummochiYou can find the original recipe here.  It's surprisingly simple, though not necessarily easy.  The pictures show my first attempt.  I will be making this again!

Recipe courtesy of Margie, of the Issoan Tea SchoolTo begin, you must find the right ingredients.  You'll need sweet rice flour.  (This is made from sticky rice and be sure that it says "sweet" rice flour.  Bob's Red Mill carries it locally at New Seasons markets.)  You'll also need red bean paste, most easily found at an Asian grocer.  (It freezes well.) You'll also need sugar, light Karo syrup and corn starch.

Balls of sweetened red bean paste

Make little balls of red bean paste.  I found that cooling these in the fridge works well because when warm, they get a little squishy and hard to handle. 

Stir together the flour, sugar and water in a 1:1:1 ratio.  Press through a sieve to remove lumps.  The results should go into a microwave-safe bowl.  Add food coloring and 1 Tbsp of Karo syrup (assuming you are using 1 cup of each main ingredient).  Give it all a stir.
Mochi mixture

Into the microwave with it, and cook on high for one minute.  Stir and repeat in one-minute increments until the mixture becomes stretchy and translucent.  Dump the sticky mochi mass (not so easy) onto a plate that has been well-dusted with corn starch.  Let the mochi cool enough to handle, but not so cool that it becomes tough.  Playing hot potato, pinch off small amounts (enough to cover a bean paste ball) and flatten in your palms.  Pinch around the red bean paste balls, dusting with corn starch as you go for easier handling. 

These are best served within 24 hours.  I keep mine in the fridge.  They really are delicious!

Monday, July 02, 2012

Starbucks to Open Tea Shop in Seattle

Hmm...I haven't quite sorted out my opinion on this yet.  Starbucks (parent company of Tazo) is planning to open a Tazo tea store in Seattle this fall.  The store will sell loose tea and will showcase a "blend-your-own" concept, where customers can experiment with various teas concoctions of their own making. 

I'm intrigued by the blending station opportunities.  Yet I notice a feeling of unease with mega-retailers.  I dislike the impact to local businesses and local economies.  With MBA hat on, I know that the goal for these large companies is profit and growth, not civics.  I'm certain Starbucks wishes to be a good corporate citizen, and they would claim the two (profit/growth and civics) can live hand-in-hand. 

If I have the chance, I will check out the Tazo tea shop when it's open.  I'm sure it will be well-done and visually appealing.  Questions I would pose for the Tazo tea managers to consider:
  • How will you invest locally - both in US communities, and in the tea-growing regions where you procure?
  • Who are your tea buyers?  Do they have tea-industry credibility?
  • How will you educate your customers about tea (and the herbal tisanes) that you carry?
  • Is there a way your tea shop can help lead people (especially young consumers) away from unhealthy sugary drinks?
What are your thoughts about this, blog readers?

PS - I'm taking a little "Meatless Monday" blogging break.  Will be doing some traveling and so forth that makes it hard to post every Monday.  I'll be posting at a more organic (ha ha) pace on this topic.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

A Little Breakfast Picnic at the Rose Garden

A recent regular day was elevated to specialness by a little breakfast picnic at the International Rose Test Garden.  I left early this day so that I could have an hour to myself to browse the garden.  I wanted a few moments of private solitude.  There were a handful of others milling about the roses, but we respectfully gave one another wide swaths of space.
The DH had made strawberry scones, whole wheat and delicious!  I packed them along with some Oregon cherries and a thermos of pineapple mint herbal tea.  I sat on a bench and took in the views of the roses and the surrounding ring of towering evergreen trees.
But I didn't sit long, as there were many roses to see  We're very lucky to have this public garden.  The roses bloom from late spring through September.

Where would you choose to have a solo little breakfast picnic?