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)!