Saturday, August 30, 2008

August Tea II: On the Front Porch

Earlier this week, I prepared a simple lunch for a friend and me. We enjoyed it on the front porch. The weather has been so nice, and the tomatoes and basil from my garden are so good, that I made use of all of nature's bounty.

We used this eggshell nautilus china that I dug out of my hope chest. It came from my paternal grandmother's yard sale finds, many many years ago. Each time I look at these dishes, they mean more to me.

For the first course, we had goat's cheese and toasted pita, olives and dried apricots.

Then we enjoyed tomatoes and basil on mozzarella, with cornmeal-rosemary scones. (These were very yummy! I will share the recipe soon.)

For dessert, we had matcha shortbread cookies and local cantaloupe with ginger-peppermint green tea from Anaba.

It was a great way to spend an unhurried hour with a friend! I kept the menu simple - things that required no cooking or that could be prepared in advance. This made the actual tea luncheon very easy, so that I could focus on enjoying the time with my friend.

Friday, August 29, 2008

New header!!

I've got a new header! It's made of some of my favorite tea party photos. Three of the four shots are mine. Thanks to Sweetcakes for the other.

Let me know what you think! I'm still deciding if I like the color text or would prefer black.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

NPR Goes to Teaism

Teaism is an Asian-inspired teahouse in Washington, DC. I've never been, but I really want to go! Have you been? Tell us about it!

Listen to the podcast:
It's a nice, basic intro to tea.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Matcha Shortbread

In the current edition of Tea magazine, there is a recipe for matcha shortbread. I gave it a try this weekend. I thought the cookies were tasty, but I wasn't sure if others would enjoy them. I took a small plate to a party, and the cookies were gobbled up. I guess it was a success! Mine didn't end up looking like the photo in the magazine, but they tasted good!

Saturday, August 23, 2008


I've been tagged by Esmerelda to share six random things about myself. Fun! So here are the rules and then the randomness.
  1. Link to the person who tagged you.
  2. Post these six rules on your blog.
  3. Write 6 random things about yourself.
  4. Tag 6 people at the end of your post and link to them.
  5. Let each person you have tagged know by leaving a comment on their blog.
  6. Let the tagger know when your entry is posted.
Six Random Things about Stephanie
  1. I iron my cloth napkins. People call me crazy, but the crisp, neatly folded, wrinkle-free napkins give me a sense of control and order.
  2. I once put regular dish soap into the dishwasher. Don't do that. :-) Bubbles came frothing out of the machine. It was a real "I Love Lucy" moment!
  3. As a child, I was bored to tears with history. Now I'm more interested, but am woefully behind in my knowledge. (I'm a good memorizer, but after the grade school test, I forgot all I didn't care to remember!) I am re-reading creative children's history books to teach history to myself anew.
  4. I have a very strong aversion to loud noises. When I saw Stomp in London, I put cotton in my ears. No kidding.
  5. I miss the smell of sawdust, sweet feed and even horse manure.
  6. I don't usually start my day with tea. In the winter, I drink hot water with lemon. In the summer, I prefer room temp water. My first cup/pot of tea usually comes around 10 am.

Six people I am tagging - participation optional:

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sunflowers On My Desk

I just had to share these cheery sunflowers, and wish you all a Happy Friday!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tea Review: Mighty Leaf Tea Pouch

The Mighty Leaf tea company recently invited me to review their silken tea pouch teas and sent me three samples. The teas included were Green Tea Tropical, Orange Dulce and Chamomile Citrus.

The pretty little box the samples came in

Gorgeous artwork on packages

The silken tea pouch

The tea pouch/pyramid has recently exploded into the tea scene. The shape of the bag allows larger-leaf teas to be used (typically higher quality teas) and gives the tea room to expand and swell. This is great! It marries the convenience of the tea bag with the flavor of loose tea. The downside, and the one that has prevented me from being a fan of this new development, is that most tea pouches/pyramids are NOT biodegradable. Most of them are nylon. Not so with Mighty Leaf. The company worked hard for a year to find greener alternatives, and came up with a pouch that is biodegradable! Kudos to Mighty Leaf. The company has my vote for this reason alone! Read more here.

But how good is the tea itself? I enjoyed them very much. My favorite was the Orange Dulce. It was very good. The Tropical Green was also good, but my personal preference in greens leans toward unflavored ones. I steeped each of the teas twice (second steeping just a wee bit longer). I thought they held up fine to a second steeping. Also, I appreciated that the packaging had steep times printed on the back. I find this lacking in too many bagged teas.

Tropical Green

Orange Dulce

I didn't try the Chamomile Citrus (allergy issues with Chamomile), but the DH sampled it for me and gave it the thumbs up.

Here's my bottom line - I thought the teas were nice and I LOVE that the tea pouch is biodegradable. I will use Mighty Leaf whenever I want the convenience of the tea bag. And I hope other tea companies use Mighty Leaf's green practices as a benchmark.

Monday, August 18, 2008

L.S. Ayres Tea Room

Sunday brought me to the L.S. Ayres Tea Room at the Indiana State Museum. I was privileged to share this trip with a woman celebrating her 70th birthday and a group of other women friends.

In its heyday, the L.S. Ayres Tea Room was part of the famous department store (of the same name). The tea room opened in 1905 and was one of those grand meeting places in downtown Indianapolis. It was a place for ladies who lunch and for kids learning manners. It was a place to meet for a fancy afternoon tea, but it also offered humble lunch plates, along with an employee's cafeteria (starting in 1949). At the employee's cafe, a bowl of chili cost 15 cents. The total price of a hearty lunch was 47 cents!

Sadly, the department store and tea room closed in the early 1990s. Yet we are fortunate that the tea room has been recreated at the Indiana State Museum and can be enjoyed with the past in mind and a nod to the future.

My favorite things about the tea room:

1 - That it has been preserved and is part of the Indiana State Museum. The setting is fabulous, nested within the museum that borders the canal in White River State Park with fabulous views of downtown.

2 - The L.S. Ayres Tea Room, Recipes & Recollections book. This clever book blends history, recipes and photos together into a fabulous resource. I have found it very valuable in learning about my state's past. (Note: The book features historical cafe recipes, many of which could be adopted for a tea party, but it is not a "tea party" cookbook.)

Isn't this clever?! That view outside the window is a reproduction of what you would have seen - it's not real!

The tea room today. The chairs and tables are original.

The food

If you go, steep yourself in the historical significance and the ambiance. The food was tasty, but not the best I've had, and the tea was Bigelow bags. But the fact that someone thought to preserve the concept of this space, and what it meant to Indianapolis, is worth its weight in tea!

Note: Coincidentally, if anyone local subscribes to the H-T, the paper ran an article on this tearoom on Friday, 8/15.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Rhubarb Cake

My friend CW has been raving about this rhubarb cake that she recently made. The DH and I got some rhubarb with the CSA this week, and so I gave the cake a try. I must agree - it's fabulous (and unusual). Here is CW's original recipe. And here are a few notes from my hippy cooking alterations.

  • I used all whole-wheat flour.
  • Instead of sour cream, I used non-fat yogurt.
  • I used brown sugar in the topping, instead of white.
  • I wondered about using maple syrup in the topping - maybe next time!
  • I almost always reduce the amount of sugar when I bake, but given rhubarb's tang, I did not this time.

This goes wonderfully with a cup of strong black tea!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Six times Two

Last Sunday, the DH (dear hubby) and I celebrated our 12th anniversary!

Here are the wedding rings that I designed. (We got these a few years into the gig.) This isn't my "every day" ring. Actually, on most days I wear the sturdy original gold band. These rings are our flights of fancy...dreams and hopes and visions and earth and sky.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Time Bounds

I've been working really hard (long hours) in my job lately. I'm not afraid of working hard; in fact, it's something I do well. But I've come to learn that when working hard interferes with my personal life, I get very unhappy with the job. In fact, it almost caused me to leave the company more than once.

Lately, too many biz trips, late meetings and early starts, and weekend "just a few hours" have placed me in the position of being grumpy toward my job. I snapped at my boss last week. That's when I know I need to reassess and stake my claim over my life.

I really enjoy my work (educational writing), and I get intrinsic reward from it. At the same time, I'm long past my early days of career ambition. These days, I want to do a good job at work, but it's imperative that I have my work life contained in a manageable box that does not continually erode time away from the rest of my life.

My ability to hold true to this desire ebbs and flows, but as I mentioned, it's been on a downward spin lately. And so, today, I began to take back control. I had lunch with a girlfriend at the Chandler House Tea Room. We chatted about family, friends - and said almost nothing about work. It was fantastic and refreshing! And I came back to work and got a lot done. I'm a happier employee, which makes me a more productive employee. And here's the key point - it's up to me to protect my time. The company won't do that for me. Sounds easy, but it took me a loooong time to learn that lesson.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

August Tea: Tea and Sympathy

My August tea party theme is about sharing a cup of tea and sympathy with the elderly. Yesterday, I took a "hamper" to a nursing home and visited with a friend who has recently been living there.

This visit itself was lovely, and at the same time it stirred the thick emotional soup bubbling in my family life in these past few weeks. My grandparents have just moved to a nursing home, and those transitions are never easy. I can't visit my grandparents as often as I would like. However, trusting in the goodness of the universe, I truly believe that by doing what I can in my town, others will do so where my grandparents live. Things balance out, I pray.

I prepared a basket of goodies: cucumber-rosemary sandwiches, dried cherry scones, and fresh cantaloupe, along with a thermos of fresh mint tea. I included a pretty tablecloth (wrapping the goods in the basket), nice napkins and real teacups and saucers.

I see a need for lots of us to take up hampers and go visiting with our elders. (Some of you do this already, and to you, I raise my cup!) There is so much we can learn about what it means to be human from being with people in their final years.

Here are some visiting tips that I've gleaned from others who work with the elderly:

  • Bring a focal point, something related to the person's interests. For example, I took a copy of Veranda magazine because it featured pictures from Monet's Giverny. My friend and her husband are passionate art fans. They worked as docents at the local art museum. (We once enjoyed a private tour from them!) Having a focal point can help ease the conversation, if needed.
  • Offer to read the paper or write correspondence as he/she dictates.
  • Before taking any food or tea, ask about dietary restrictions.
  • Be flexible. Sometimes folks have good days; sometimes not. Be emotionally prepared for and OK with either.
  • Get centered before the visit begins. Be aware of what your emotional (and physical) triggers are. For example, I am still processing the experience from my grandparents' recent transition. By acknowledging my own concerns, I can be fully, consciously, present in the moment and attentive to my friend's needs.
  • Recognize the power of being present. The thing I find hard about visiting with the elderly is that I can't fix much. I can fluff a pillow or add a blanket, but I can't fix this person's physical or emotional pain. What I can do, and what is so incredibly powerful, is to be there and be present to her experience. I can listen and acknowledge who the person is and what he feels. And I can pour a cup of love.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Mooncakes and More

At the Tower of Cosmic Reflections, I had a light lunch. It was hard to decide what to order from the dinner and snack menus! Many things tempted me. I finally settled on the steamed vegetable dumplings and the green tea mooncake.

These dumplings were fantastic!

Look at the lovely green tea color! This mooncake was tasty, but more than I could eat. I only managed a few wedges.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Tower of Cosmic Reflections (Tea House)

The building in the background is the Tower of Cosmic Reflections, the tea house at the Portland Classical Chinese Garden. This is a very peaceful place, filled with lovely woodwork and light.

I had a very special tea from an old growth tea forest in Yunnan, China. The tea is called Ailao Zhuan Cha. Being from an old growth forest means that the tea plants are wild and native to the area, grown within a region of natural biodiversity. Sadly, this is a rarity. Most tea plantations are clear-cut areas with little species diversity. This puts the crop at risk for pests and other issues. It reduces the area's natural ability to sustain itself and increases the risk of topsoil erosion. (The same holds true with crop farming in the US.) So it was a special thing for me to be able to taste tea from an old-growth area.

Hot water kettle.

The tea was served in what the Tao of Tea calles its "Gaiwan Ceremony" style. The lid is used to gently paddle the tea and water as the tea brews.

The tea leaves (1) are moved into the Gaiwan (4) with the tongs (2). The leaves are rinsed with hot water and the liquid is drained into the waste bowl (3). Then more hot water is poured onto the leaves and they steep to the desired strength.

During steeping, the lid is used (see photo above) to paddle the leaves, circulating them through the hot water. If you are using a gaiwan for brewing and drinking, the story would stop here. However, since this was "ceremony" style - meaning that it usually serves a group - the tea is decanted into a small teapot (5) and poured into tiny teacups (6) for enjoyment.

The leaves can be re-steeped several times, and more dry leaf added as needed. It is a beautiful process to observe and participate in. Do give this a try when you have the chance!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Portland Classical Chinese Garden

Last weekend, I had a few hours before boarding a plane and spent the free time at the Portland Classical Chinese Garden. I am so grateful that I did! I would recommend this site as a must-see the next time you are in Portland. (Admittedly, I am a garden fan and could have spent all day in this relatively small garden, looking at its infinite detail.)

One major charm of the Portland Classical Chinese Garden is the tea which I will dedicate a separate blog post. In the mean time, here are some images of the garden itself.

I learned of two ideas that I love! #1 - A classical Chinese garden will have elements in it to slow you down. Examples include windy paths and elevated bridges. I LOVE that idea of letting a garden teach us how to slow down. #2 - Many things in Chinese have two names - one functional and one poetic. That's so cool!

A super surprise was to stumble across (almost literally, actually) a tea plant! Don't tell, but I pinched off a leaf and placed it into my journal. Isn't that a lovely varietal name, Blushing Maiden!

Stay tuned for more about the tea room at the Portland Classical Chinese Garden.