Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tolstoy and Tea

"Would you like the samovar?" she asked.

I am reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (the Russian author of War and Peace fame). Throughout the book there are references to tea. A samovar is a metal urn (sometimes shaped like a teapot) with a spigot at the base, used in Russia (and Slavic countries) to boil water for tea.

Continuing from above, Levin is having tea at a farm house...

...The samovar was beginning to sing; the laborers and the family, having disposed of the horses, came in to dinner. Levin, getting his provisions out of his carriage, invited the old man to have tea with him.

I find it interesting that throughout the book so far (I'm 3/4 through the 923 pages), I can't put my finger on exactly what time these Russian folks took tea. It seems to depend on a number of things - the occasion, the expectations of class, and how hungry the character is. For example, in the script above, "tea" is clearly the evening meal. Yet on other occasions throughout the book, "tea" takes place anywhere from the noon hour to midnight!

Tolstoy is famous for his incredible detail with both characters and surrounding scenery. I admire how none of his characters is easy to love, nor easy to hate. He shows the failings and the virtues of them all.

I also admire the ability of the characters to have passionate (yet respectful) debates about their beliefs, and yet continue to call one another friends. That is a trait that is sorely missing in today's American culture, in my humble opinion.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Tea and Peonies

In China, where the peonies grow wild, they are called sho-yo meaning "most beautiful." Peonies symbolize good fortune.

I have been very fortunate this year! The peonies have had a glorious season in my neighborhood. I love this photo - check out the peony's reflection in the tea pot!

Peonies come in a wide array of colors and details. Some are uniform in color, some fade gracefully from light pink to white, others have yellow centers. All peonies have an incredible aroma! (It reminds me of roses, but it is at the same time distinct.) I've had peonies sitting on my desk for the past few weeks, and they fill my whole office with their sweet scent.

Peonies are also sentimental for me, reminding me of my grandmother's yard and her stories of the ants "tickling" the peonies to encourage their blossoms to unfold.

White Peony tea is also very popular. In fact, it is the grandparent of today's flowering teas. Before there were today's highly marketed (but incredibly cool) "artisan" teas that unfurl into the shape of flowers, Bai Mudan tea was very popular in China. Bai Mudan is called White Peony tea and is made by tying many tea leaves together to form the shape of a peony flower when it blossoms during steeping. Sorry, no pictures of that - but do check out the real peonies below!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Some Favorite Tea Quotes

Here are some of my favorite tea quotes. Feel free to contribute your own by leaving a comment! (Also, yet another flower photo. The flowers and greenery all came from my yard. You might notice the rain drops. These were picked shortly after a shower, last Saturday.)

"Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world." --T'ien Yiheng

“Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea! How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea." -- Sidney Smith (1711-1845) The "English Billy Graham" of his day.

"There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea." -- Bernard-Paul Heroux

"If a man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty." -- Japanese proverb

"Bring me a cup of tea and the Times." -- Queen Victoria's first command upon accession to throne

"If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.” -- William Ewart Gladstone

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

PG Tips - Online Tea/Soccer Games

PG Tips is a very popular brand of tea (loose or bagged) in Britain. Also given that country's love of soccer, PG tips has come up with some very clever online games. Go here to play: Click on the "Play Now" and then "Play Online." Follow the instructions from there on. The game I played had me trying to toss a tea bag into a soccer mug. I failed miserably the first time, but got the gist of it on the second attempt.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Great Gatsby Gala

The DH (dear husband) and I attended the Great Gatsby Gala last Friday. It was a fund raiser for a local arts agency. The theme was inspired by the community's "One Book" campaign, in which the whole community is supposed to read and discuss a book. In this case, Great Gatsby.

The party was great fun for me! Even the introverted DH had a nice time. Everything was Gatsby-themed, including the "speakeasy." We started with Charleston lessons and then the Stardusters band played swing tunes for the duration of the evening. Most folks were dressed in Gatsby-ish costumes. I went with the "Daisy" look (vs. the flapper look). I'm glad because there were lots of flappers!

I owe special thanks to two people who really helped with my outfuit! Thanks to NM Tea Lover for loaning the cloche hat and the lace gloves! Thanks to my neighbor, costumer extraordinaire, for helping pull the whole thing together! It was really fun....both the planning and the actual event. I've discovered I really like costume parties. :-)

By the way, the fur I'm wearing below is real mink. I don't make a habit of wearing fur, but I picked this up at a yard sale in NM a number of years ago for about $25. It's in great condition. While my neighbor and I were experimenting with the outfit, I reached into the pocket of the mink and pulled out the original receipt. I didn't know the receipt was there. Apparently, I've got expensive taste - it sold for $450, probably in the 50s!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day Tea Toast

Happy Mother's Day, first to my Mom. A very special and strong woman. I love you, Mom! Thanks for helping me grow into the woman I am.

And thanks to the other mothers that come to us throughout our lives. Women who have touched our lives with gentle comfort or demands of our best. Or both.

Happy Mother's Day to the mothers of causes. Carriers of the torch of compassion, peace, and love.

An excerpt from the Original Mother's Day Proclamation, June 2, 1870.
by Julia Ward Howe

"In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women, without limit of nationality, may be appointed and promote the alliance of different nationalities, the settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Can there be any day but this?

Excerpted from Five Mystical Songs by George Herbert

Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavor?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Discussion: Is sun tea bitter?

I had a question in my last post (about the Ginger Peach sun tea) that I want to open to the group. Do you find your sun tea bitter? If not, why not - what's your secret? Thanks for sharing!

My tip: Sun tea can get bitter, as can any tea, if it's left to steep for a long time. I generally only steep about an hour, to an hour and a half. Tip: If you want stronger tea, use more tea leaves instead of steeping longer. Long steeps almost always lead to bitter tea (especially in the black tea realm).

I look forward to your ideas and thoughts!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Spicy Tea for Cinco de Mayo!

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Contrary to popular belief, the 5th of May does not celebrate Mexican Independence Day (that's in September). Rather, it's the celebration of victory over the French in a battle. And, it's more celebrated in the US than in Mexico - thanks, I'm sure, to the marketing machine.

The DH decided to have an impromptu fiesta tonight, so he's been cooking and cleaning all day. (And playing air guitar as he vacuums and sings to Aerosmith. It's quite entertaining!)

My contribution is Persimmon Pudding for dessert, and
Ginger Peach Tea, the sun-tea variety. I like to spice up the tea by slicing, then crushing fresh ginger and adding it to the water as it steeps.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Bunnies in our garden!

We've got a family of baby bunnies in our garden! They're welcome, as long as they don't eat my strawberries that are starting to grow!! I think the DH and I saw the "weaning ceremony" on Monday. We were walking out about 7:30 am for a run, and the mamma bunny was pushing one of the bunnies away from her. Another bunny tried to nurse, and the mamma bunny was not allowing it. Later that day, I snapped the shot of this little one. There were 3 total. There are two girls and one boy (I'm just making this up!). I named them: Bonnie, Bennie, and Bunny. The DH added the last name of "Foo Foo" from the children's song that, while annoyingly catchy, is not-so-kind if you pay attention to the words.

These photos are of Bunny Foo Foo. :-)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Cafe et Crepe and Moroccan Mint Tea

I spent about 2.5 hours working from the Cafe et Crepe (a coffeehouse and crepery) in my home town today. (For local folks, it's the one near the post office and fire house downtown.) I really enjoyed it! The place had free wireless internet, and it wasn't too crowded. It had good light from lots of windows.

I spent $12 on lunch (including tip), which is a little more than I usually spend on a quick lunch for myself. (The DH thought that was rather much for "just flour and water.") However, the meal was good and plenty of it! I had the Spinach Blanc crepe (spinach, garlic and swiss cheese) and a nice pot of "Algerian" tea. The rest of the menu was a little light on the tea offerings, but it did include steamers and hot chocolate as non-coffee choices.

The "Algerian" tea hit the spot. You might also know this as Moroccan Mint tea. Basically, it's a green tea base (usually gunpowder) mixed with mint and heavily sugared. Sometimes it includes subtle spices, my favorite being clove.

Here is my recipe for Moroccan Mint tea. I prefer to use fresh mint, when it's in season.

A handful (~1 cup loosely packed) of fresh mint sprigs, plus a few extra for garnish
3 teaspoons green tea (traditionally, gunpowder green)
3 tablespoons sugar
4 cups water
4-5 whole cloves to taste (lightly crushed or whole - not ground)

This isn't a precise recipe, so taste and adjust to suit your preferences. Also, I should preface this by saying I prefer mine pretty that drives how I concoct this brew.

Add the mint leaves and cloves into the water and bring to a boil. Let boil for ~2 minutes to get a good mint base. (Once it starts to boil, bring it down to a rolling simmer.)

After the mint base is ready, bring the heat down so that the water is barely boiling and add the sugar and tea. Cook for another 1-3 minutes, depending on how strong you like the tea flavor.

Pour through a filter into a teapot or teacups and serve. Small glass cups are traditional, but be careful! They get very hot and, if there is a crack already, the hot liquid can pop the glass open. Garnish with remaining sprigs of mint. Enjoy!

Monday, May 01, 2006

A Beautiful Tea Party!

Happy May Day! I hope your day includes flowers. May is so fragrant around here! I have lovely white and purple lilacs on my work desk. On the kitchen table is a spicy-smelling iris. Outside, scents of honeysuckle just starting to bloom are drifting my way. :-)

I had the chance to attend a beautiful tea party yesterday! It couldn't have been a more perfect day - rainy and chilly! Perfect for sitting inside with friends (and making new ones) and enjoying tea and wonderful food!

This particular tea party was hosted by the woman who made the cake I raved about in a previous blog. She is an incredible cook! Our menu included:

  • Three teas: Angel's Dream, Decaf Black Currant, and Alpine Flowers. The first two are from Serendipity Teas. The last one is from Republic of Tea.
  • Finger sandwiches: Egg salad, chicken salad, cheese puffs with avocado, cucumber dill, and asparagus with prosciutto. (I hope I'm not forgetting any - I'm going on memory!)
  • Scones: Orange scones with homeade blueberry jam and Devonshire cream.
  • Desserts: Oh, my! She made her own petit fors! Plus, we had teapot chocolates, raspberry cream puffs, fresh fruit tartlets, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and madeleines.

As party favors, this creative hostess used handkerchiefs (many vintage) to wrap up samples of tea and a small teacup/saucer candle. The packaging was as lovely as the gift itself!

:-) Yummy and lovely!

My friend does this tea party each year to thank her women friends for their involvement in her life. I was honored to be included this year. I know how much work goes into creating one of these things - hours and hours and hours and then some more! Thank you for your gracious hosting!