Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy Blue Moon!

Happy New Year to you, and happy blue moon, as well. 2009 has been a year of sweet and saltiness for me. I've had wonderful vacations and visits with friends. I've had excellent health. I've matured personally and in my partnership. I've lost friends and family. I've had to adjust my vision of the future to include alternate possibilities. I've dealt with job and personal insecurities. And through it all, I've learned. I welcome the release of 2009, thank it for all it has offered, and look forward to 2010.

I've spent the past few days totally off-plan. I had the idea of getting my tax stuff in order, cleaning house, writing in my journal, etc. Instead, and thanks to the DH, I've been staying up late and watching movies, sleeping in, going for long walks, and doing nothing much. This is precious to me! I'm not very good at relaxing into doing nothing. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sweet Potato Pie with Black Walnuts

The DH recently made a sweet potato pie. It tastes very much like pumpkin pie. I think most people wouldn't know the difference. He topped it with a sprinkling of black walnuts. They are strong flavored, and I like them!

I send to you wishes for happy holidays, with interesting and adventurous food treats. :-) Or your favorite traditional ones, whatever you desire. I'll be taking a few days off. I'll be back to writing shortly after Christmas. Cheers!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Harney & Sons Tea Tasting: Chinese - Japanese Greens

Cups at the ready

A few weeks ago, I had the joy of spending an afternoon with a friend, tasting 5 different teas. I wanted to compare Chinese and Japanese green teas. The difference between these two large categories is very broad, then within each category, the nuances and distinctions are quite interesting. We were using teas recommended in the Harney & Sons book. (And thanks to Angela for several of these teas! Some of them are hard to find!)

To start, we tasted two Chinese greens. Bi Lo Chun (Spring Snail Shell) and Lung Ching (Dragon's Well). The Bi Lo Chun had a hint of apricot in the aroma and the flavor was strong and roasted, but very pleasant. We both enjoyed this tea a lot. The Lung Ching is a very famous type of Chinese green. This one had a sweet aftertaste, especially as compared to the previous tea. Both teas were steeped at 175 degrees for 2 minutes.

As you can see below, the shape of the dry leaf is very different for each. The Bi Lo Chun is said to look like snail shells. It unfurls completely as it steeps, revealing two leaves and a bud. Lung Ching gets its flat shape by tea makers who press the leaves against hot metal with their fingers.

Bi Lo Chun (back) and Lung Ching (front)

Bi Lo Chun

Lung Ching

I wanted to compare the essence of Chinese teas and Japanese teas. Chinese teas are fixed -meaning the application of heat to stop the oxidation - in a wide variety of ways. Common means include using hot woks and ovens. Japanese greens, on the other hand, are almost always fixed using steam. Whereas Chinese makers coax a wide diversity of flavors and styles from the tea, the Japanese have kept tradition and continuity as a prime consideration.

We tasted three Japanese sencha teas. Matsuda's Sencha, Kakegawa Ichiban Sencha, and Kagoshima Sencha.
Three senchas: Matsuda's (back), Kakegawa (middle), Kagoshima (front)

Sencha teas are incredibly popular in Japan. Harney points out they are so popular, they are mass-produced (often yielding a lesser-quality tea).

We both found Matsuda's Sencha to be very appealing. No bitterness at all with a sweet aftertaste. After reading Harney's description, we understand why. The tea is made by Matsuda, his wife, and his mother. He does not shade his tea as it grows (a common practice to boost amino acids). He considers it unnatural. He uses other processing differences to produce a sencha that is unique and quite wonderful. If you can get your hands on some of this, give it a try and compare it to other sencha teas.

Not to say the other two were bad. They were fine teas. It's just that the one was extraordinary. The Kakegawa, to me, was the least memorable of the three. A bit astringent. The Kagoshima was more memorable, but I didn't' care for it. I think it has to do with the fukamushi processing. This is an intense steaming process that breaks up the leaves into fine filaments, and gives a stronger flavor. I had a sense of this tea being salty. My friend found elements of raw bell pepper (as the tea cooled).
All the teas we tried, from left to right

I recommend you try a tea tasting that highlights the differences in Chinese and Japanese greens.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Beautiful Breakfast

When everyday things, like breakfast, are beautiful, I try to pause and notice them. I also try to make everyday things beautiful out of habit. *Sometimes* I get this right. :-) This recent breakfast is one example.

I remember the first time I read of the concept of making everyday habits beautiful. It was from Alexandra Stoddard's book, Living a Beautiful Life. A good one if you haven't seen it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

He's Hot...She's Not!

The giant comforter above is quite the masterpiece, I must say. It's a homemade down comforter. It's incredibly warm on my side and not warm at all on the DH's side. Just the way we like it. (It's folded in half above.)

The DH had the idea for the comforter over 13 years ago, before we were dating. I was complaining about always being cold in the winter. He, always looking for a way to repurpose something, thought up the plan to use recycled down from coats and sleeping bags he picked up at thrift stores.

Fast forward to last summer, when we decided to make the thing. My contribution was the idea of it being full of down on my side only. We used very high thread count sheets. I sewed three huge channels for my side. His side is just the sheet. We stuffed and fluffed, stuffed and fluffed, stuffed and fluffed. Then we did a lot of vacuuming! Mostly of ourselves. We washed and dried the thing in hot temps at the laundry mat. It wouldn't fit in our machines!

It's finally been cold enough to try out, and the comforter is v.e.r.y warm! Some pics of the stuffing and fluffing. We did this on the front porch, a smart move.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Make, Ship, Green

More marshmallows and persimmon-cookie making for me this weekend. Anybody know if these marshmallows will freeze?

With the persimmons, I'm glad to return to the whole wheat, non-white sugar plan. (I used a mix of sourghum and honey, both local).

I boxed and shipped some gifts today. I was reflecting that most of the gifts were handmade or local. I can't say that I planned this strategy, but it shows how the buying local value has seeped into my life. I'm very happy about that!

We're going to help trim a tree at some friends' home tonight. I'm looking forward to this quiet, meaninful evening - minus the holiday hubub and expectations to be twinkly.

Here area few good articles I've read recently. Enjoy!

10 ways to enjoy the holidays that have nothing to do with buying presents

Recycled wrapping paper

E-how to a green Christmas - One caution; I work for a high-tech company and feel compelled to pass this careful with those e-cards. Use only ones from very reputable sources. They are a common spyware carrier. If you're unsure about opening one, check first with the sender.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Gilgit Tea

I was recently thumbing through a book called The East India Company Book of Tea by Antony Wild. I came across a note for Gilgit Tea. I'd never heard of that. Here is the recipe:

"Add a few pods of cardamom to a pot of Chinese green tea. Allow to brew for five minutes."

I gave it a try! I brewed the green tea for about 2.5 minutes, and as such, the cardamom flavor wasn't very strong. I added in a tiny sprinkling of ground cardamom and was pleased.

Have you heard of Gilgit Tea? I wasn't able to find it on the Internet, tho I did learn that Gilgit is a city in Pakistan.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Homemade Marshmallows

We had our first dusting of snow yesterday. Perfect for trying out my homemade marshmallows! So many of you were curious about them in the giveaway post, I decided to share how I made them.

I used Martha Stewart's recipe, which is basically adding sugar to corn syrup, and bringing it to the soft ball stage. Combine with gelatin and beat the heck out of it. A candy thermometer and a stand mixer make this part really easy.

What's not easy is getting the marshmallow goo out of the whisk and mixing bowl (above) and onto the cookie sheet (below)! Spread it thick, so you have plump marshmallows. When this task was done, I had marshmallow goo in a lot of places. Tip: Once you've been victorious in this battle, use really hot water for cleanup. (I put the kettle on for boiling water.) The heat helps soften/dissolve the stickiness.

Let this sit overnight. It will still be spongy and stringy in the morning, but that's OK. When ready, you can cut into desired shapes. I started out being cute with these round shapes, but shortly after this photo, I switched to using a pizza cutter and made larger squares. Much faster and less waste. When you're done cutting, dust them with powdered sugar so they don't stick together.

Ta-da! These taste really, really good. I was sugared up yesterday, for sure!

Monday, December 07, 2009


I feel like a fairy godmother today, because I'm pleased to announce that not only will I be sharing my original giveaway package, but the nice people at are pitching in with prizes, too, and generously so! A half pound of tea from their website to a handful of lucky ducks. Thank you!

By the way, SO many of you asked about homemade marshmallows. I'll blog on that tomorrow!

And the winners are....

My prize winner:

Teaflection prizes:

I'll be connecting with each of you privately for shipping info, etc.

Again, thank you to all and know that I'm grateful that you visited.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

ISBN Delights

Christmas just came early for me! The gift is seeing my words in print, published in this book (page 22)! I can hold it in my hands, flip the pages, smell its new-book smell, and give my gratitude for all the words inside, all the women who wrote them.

I’m part of a women’s writing group in my hometown. Two visionary women in the group worked long and hard to create this anthology, a collection of pieces from the past 5 years. The stories are diverse: heart-breaking to funny; poetry to prose and in between; by professional writers and women writing for the first time; written from jail cells, states of euphoria, deepest depression, everyday life; from birth to girlhood to motherhood to death.

One of my stories is included. I’m so excited! Heck, we’ve got an ISBN# and we’re on Amazon!

Last night was the book release party. I was honored to read my story from the book at this event. (It's about my first bra.)
My fullest gratitude to A and L for the hard work to make this happen, and always to B for being such a great teacher and facilitator.

Cheers! Stephanie

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

It's Here! Giveaway Day 2009

It's here! Sew, Mama, Sew's annual handmade giveaway day. It's a very, very fun event and I'm excited to be a part of it! Check out all the participants and leave comments at their blogs to be considered for a prize.
My contribution to this event includes the following fabulous prizes:
  • Handmade envelopes/cards (like these)
  • Homemade hot chocolate mix with homemade marshmallows
  • Some very flavorful tea (coconut pouchong)
  • A poem written just for the event

To enter, please leave a comment, and if you don't have a blogger account, leave me a way to get in touch (e-mail). Good luck! And thank you for your participation!

Winner announced on Monday, December 7th.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Giveaway Day - Tomorrow!

Please join me in celebrating Giveaway Day tomorrow, organized by Sew, Mama, Sew! I had a fantastic time with this last year, and I expect no less this time! Please stop by here and see what I'm giving away, plus visit the full list of participants on Sew, Mama, Sew!
Stipulation: the items given away either need to be handmade (or raw materials to be converted to something handmade)!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Respite at Clifty Falls

I love this photo of me (taken by the DH). I love it because I know I'm happy and relaxed. We spent the early part of last week in Madison, IN. This photo is at Clifty Falls State Park. The few days away were a respite for me, a much needed break.

Here are a few more photos from Clifty Falls. It's a very nice state park. Be sure to eat at the Inn, with birds-eye views of Madison. If you plan to hike, go prepared for mud. There are many natural springs that bubble through the limestone, dribbling across your path.

Big Clifty Falls

Little Clifty Falls

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hope - Tenacity - Release

Hope - That this bulb will produce a beautiful amaryllis, and when it does, that my future will be more concrete.

Tenacity - These flowers continue to bloom, despite short days of sunlight and chilly temps. They continue to show their best face to the sun, even in unfriendly conditions. How I want to be.

Release - Knowing when enough is enough and letting go gracefully. I've hung onto the idea of blogging every day in November, but the truth is I need a few days of being completely unplugged. I'll be back soon.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Funky Legs Friday: Stripey

Funky Legs Friday!

These fun striped tights came from TJ Maxx. They're knit tights, like socks. Nice and warm.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Farewell Stella, and Thank You

Me, on Stella. Photo by the DH.

I pushed the electric start and Stella came to life. She purred quietly, a sleek feline next to the large and loud canine-like Harley in the next parking space. The Harley rider gave me a collegial nod as he stepped over his ride.

Stella and I pulled out of the motorcycle lot and scooted across the parking area. It was 5:15 pm and workers were pouring out of the office building. People stopped and smiled.


I sold Stella this week. I wrote a letter to her new owner, sharing her story and my story with her. I will miss her tangerine orangeness and her coolness. I will always be grateful for my bravery that came with her.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Words for Wednesday, Tea is Good Stuff

"Drinking a daily cup of tea will surely starve the apothecary." ~Ancient Chinese Proverb

"Better to be deprived of food for three days, than tea for one."~Ancient Chinese Proverb

"My experience convinced me that tea was better than brandy, and during the last’s months in Africa I took no brandy, even when sick taking tea instead."~Theodore Roosevelt, in a 1912 letter

"My dear, if you could give me a cup of tea to clear my muddle of a head I should better understand your affairs." ~Charles Dickens
*Photo from Microsoft Images

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Anne of Green Gables Christmas Treasury

Browsing through the craft books at the library, I recently found the book, The Anne of Green Christmas Treasury. What fun! I am a huge Anne fan! This book offers craft ideas and recipes mentioned in the Anne of Green Gables series, or ones that would have been placed in that period. It's a fun book for the Anne lovers in your life.

Here is another source of craft ideas inspired by the book.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reduced and Reused Holiday Cards

I'm making all of my holiday cards this year - and the envelopes. Actually, the envelopes (above) will steal the show! These are made from the winter Vera Bradley catalogue. The pages are the perfect size and weight, and they show many festive holiday scenes. My mom and I folded these up recently, when she was over for a visit. Here are the instructions for making envelopes.

I'm making the card inserts from unwanted notebook dividers, those heavy card stock pages with the tabs on them.
I've been thinking about the recycling triangle lately. Recycling is great, of course, but the first two components actually prevent the need for recycling. That's a good thing! It's what I'm trying to do with these holiday cards.

By the way, if you have an extra Vera Bradley catalogue, the big holiday one with wide pages, that you don't want, I would love to turn it into envelopes! Please send an e-mail to

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Apple Oven Pancake

I have a new breakfast favorite. This apple oven pancake is fantastic! Three things contributed to trying out the new recipe this morning:
  1. My friend Esme recently raved about a similar recipe.
  2. I stumbled upon the recipe in the October, 2009 Sunset magazine. (Thank you, Library!)
  3. We have lots of apples from the CSA.

This recipe delivered!

Soften the apples in a cast iron skillet. Don't peel the apples; it's not necessary.

Add the milk/flour/egg mixture. Whole wheat flour works GREAT!
Bake for 15 minutes.


Try not to eat the whole thing. It's very hard.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Spiced Cider

One of the things I love about fall is fresh apple cider. We're doing the fall program with our CSA. We regularly receive cider, unpasteurized and pressed just a few days prior. Amazing!

I like to make hot spiced cider. I just throw in whatever spices I have on hand. Usually, that includes a cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, always cloves, perhaps a pinch of nutmeg. Yum! What do you use to make spiced cider?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Patterns in Ivory

Funky Legs Friday is here! (Finally!)

These tights are as much elegant as they are funky, in my opinion. The ivory cloth is textured and patterned. In this case, I'm dressing them up. They also work in casual mode. They came from Target.

This photo, by the way, is a favorite. The DH (feet in the background) snapped it, but I claim the concept! :-)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Apple Tart Thing

I don't know what to call this. Got any ideas? It's an apple tart thing or torte. Whatever it's called, it's delicious! Apples tossed in cider, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, a bit of whole wheat flour, and a wee bit of sweetener of choice. The crust is something the DH made up. It includes whole wheat flour, flax meal, cornmeal, sunflower seeds, shortening, and apple cider.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Words for Wednesday, Success

This quote is by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of leave the world a better know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."

I remind myself today of what really matters to me as success. I think this quote offers a great perspective. I'm also reminded of another quote that I love, which I heard on the radio. I don't know who said it, but the quote was, "What other people think of me is none of my business."

The photo is of Bryce Canyon. It takes me to a memory of when I accomplished an amazing thing, despite my fears and doubts. I rode my bike up the mountain-side of switchbacks into Zion National Park, and then into Bryce Canyon, and then up 10,000 feet in elevation to Cedar Breaks and down again. I can do so much (and so can you) when I tell myself positive stories and measure myself by the right criteria.

*Photo from Microsoft Images

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tea Bits

Have you seen the winners of the Calm-a-Sutra tea video competition? There are some really amazing ones! Check them out on your tea break.

In other tea news...Adagio has a new tea blend - Bacon Tea. They may be playing off the popular chocolate-bacon candy bar. The tea is blended with a lapsang souchong base and apple and caramel flavorings. I would try it, yes, but I'm not sure I'd like it.

Two tea-entrepreneurs in North Carolina and Tennessee are forming a society to reach out to organizations that support young women, such as Girls, Inc. Read more here.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A Thankful Heart

"Saying thank you is more than good manners. It is good spirituality."
~Alfred Painter

I have so much to be grateful for, and today is especially good. It's sunny. My Mom's in town and we have a fun day ahead of us. The souffle I made last night puffed up well. We're healthy and blessed and warm. Thank you.

I want to bring a practice of gratitude into my life. I like to think of three things I'm grateful for at the end of each day. It's transformative.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Green Tea Cakes from Taiwan

The DH and I were browsing in an Asian market recently, and these Green Tea Cakes (like a cookie to us) caught my eye. What intrigued me was the simplicity of the ingredients: Green tea paste, wheat flour, shortening, sugar, milk fat, milk powder, sodium sulfite. Look at the box of your regular grocery-store cookie, and the list of ingredients is usually much longer. I'm trying to buy few packaged goods these days, and when I do, I want them to be with as few ingredients as possible. These fit the criteria and came home for a try.

The taste of these cookies is pleasant, and yet somewhat unusual. The green tea paste is chewy. It definitely pairs nicely with a cup of green tea. While it's not a cookie I feel compelled to put away because I'll eat them all in one setting, it does make a nice tea-time treat.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Smurf Legs

It's Funky Legs Friday! I call these my smurf legs. They are that smurf blue, don't ya think? These are thigh-high socks that actually stay up. They came from sock dreams, a store that definitely takes socks (and leg warms and arm warmers) to a new level of funkiness.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Choc Hazelnut Scones

Mmmmmm! I made these chocolate hazelnut scones recently, and really enjoyed them. I used whole wheat flour and less sweetener, of course.

Here's a tip about hazelnuts, one that I learned from a Martha Stewart Living article. Toast the hazelnuts and then rub them together in a towel (not a fancy one). Some of the paper-like covering on the outside of the shell will come off.

I think Trader Joe's has the best deal I've found on hazelnuts. How do you use them?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Words for Wednesday, Tea Time

This is my first post in a series called Words for Wednesday. I'll share some of my favorite words...sometimes about tea, sometimes not, sometimes my own, often not.


Tea Time
~Sharon Elizabeth Wood, 1997

At four o’clock, the day becomes liquid
casting a Darjeeling shadow on itself.
This is the time between,
an hour without destiny.

I must be careful
not to disturb the scent of oranges
that rests on the mist,
nor to veer off the steamy path
as I raise the china lip
to meet my own.

We are both survivors of fate,
this old cup and I,
adrift in the fortune of tea leaves.

Now we are held by tales’ embrace,
floating on vapors and shadows,
silhouetted by the ebbing day
as it sets over the oranges.

There is just enough light
for remembrance and forgetting,
the taste of cress, the touch of lace,
powdery scones lifted to powdery faces,
moments past now beginning.
This is a time of peace, a time of grace.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A Little Crafting Inspiration

It's interesting how just thinking about being creative lifts my spirits! I can be stuck in a tough day and if I take a mini-break to give my creative side room to breathe, the result is uplifting. My heart and soul feel lighter! Humans are made to be creative.

As the holidays approach, I'm thinking of homemade gifts. If you are, too, you might enjoy one of the free templates here, a nice treat from Melanie Falick books. Or follow the month-long celebration of Handmade Holidays on Sew, Mama, Sew!

Do you have any creative plans for the holidays that you're willing to share? Homemade gifts? Creative celebrations? Mine are still wispy in my mind, but I'm narrowing in. I'm also curious - how does your creative side fuel/support/sustain/help/etc. you?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Harney & Sons Tea Tasting: Pan Long Yin Hao and Jin Shan

I've begun the Chinese green section of Harney & Sons Guide to Tea. I recently tasted Pan Long Ying Hao and Jin Shan.
Pan Long Ying Hao

Jin Shan

The shape of the leaves for both teas is sculpted by hand. Look at them closely! They are beautiful.

If you are new to green teas, I recommend Chinese greens as an entry point. The Chinese greens are less forward and often sweeter than the vegetal Japanese greens. Harney indicates two reasons for this. First, the best Chinese greens are picked in the spring from leaflets, which include a bud and the two leaves near it. In spring, the leaves have more sugars. Second, special techniques to "fix" the teas, heated to preserve the chlorophyll, are employed. There are many ways to fix a green tea. Common Chinese ways include pan-fired in a wok or heated in an oven.

I brewed both teas at 175 degrees for two minutes. Pan Long Ying Hao is on the left. Its liquor and flavor were both very light. In fact, I think I could have tasted it with the white teas and believed it belonged in that category. I feel quite special to be tasting this tea, because Harney points out that it is a local tea made for local drinkers. It's an obscure tea that has made it to the West. Lucky us! He doesn't even know exactly how the tea is fixed, though he expects in a hot wok.

The tea on the right, Jin Shan, was a wee bit darker in liquor. The flavor was lemony (we agreed with Harney on that) and very mildly astringent. This tea is grown in the cool mountains, in an ancient tea-growing area (between Zhejiang and Anhui). This tea is exposed to as little heat as possible, which allows it to stay sweet and light.

Harney also mentions a fascinating anecdote about the Jin Shan region. Monks from this area may have been the ones to introduce the Japanese to tea in the ninth century.