Friday, December 30, 2011

Tea Review: Yunnan Golden Buds (Californa Tea House)

Isn't this a gorgeous tea?  I love the contrast of the dark leaf with the golden leaf.  Just gorgeous! 

This is my second tea review for California Tea House, and I have really enjoyed this tea!  I'm not the best to judge the Yunnan Gold, because I've only drank them seriously for a couple of years.  There are folks who have been devoted to Yunnan Gold teas for a very long time.  Those folks will tell you that the Yunnan Golds we have today simply don't measure up to the teas of old.  (Share your opinion on this topic if you have one, please!)  The dilemma is that when the tea market went crazy over pu-erhs, a lot of the good Yunnan Gold plants were removed to make way for more pu-erh tea trees and processing, and it has never been the same.  :-(

Nonetheless, I've really enjoyed this tea.  I've found it's what I want when I plan to be out for the day and I want a thermos of tea with me.  It holds up well over time.  I steeped it with water just off the boil (rest if for 30 sec),  for 3 minutes and found that to be just right for my taste preferences.  I drink it plain.  I've really enjoyed this one, and I plan to share it with a friend who knows her "old-style" Yunnan's to see what her take is.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Surprise Visit and Teacup Aprons

Happy "in between"!  That's what I call this time between Christmas and New Year's.  I hope you have time for slowness, reflection and rest. 

I spent a very nice Christmas with family.  A special highlight was the surprise visit from dear friends who live a good drive away!  Timing played out so that I wasn't going to be able to visit them this year.  Unknown to me, they had planned with my sister to come and see me instead!  Oh, what a wonderful gift!  They even brought lunch with them.  Thank you from the depths of my heart!

These friends are very creative people.  We celebrated with Esme the publication of her prize-winning fiction story.  And Sweetcakes, crafter extraordinaire, gave us these lovely, whimsical aprons.  Mine is a fashion statement to be worn with a skirt!  I can promise it will never see the likes of a kitchen mess.
My Teacup Apron
And matching ones for my sister and her little one, too

I'm very, very grateful to all of my friends and family who remain constant in my life, despite the miles and distance between us.  Much love!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Wishing you a joyful holiday, a peaceful close to 2011 and a new year of health and prosperity!

"Joy" was my theme word for 2011.  I've learned a lot from the focus and study on this word, how it's always available to me and yet sometimes so hard to hold.  I have a lot more to learn from this word, and I'll expand upon it in 2012 (more coming soon on that!).  For now, I'm enjoying a joyful time with my family, in old traditions and new ones.  My best to you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tea Review: California TeaHouse Jasmine Pearl

The folks at California TeaHouse have been extra patient with me.  They sent me samples to review some time ago, and I'm just now getting around to it!  But here we are....the first review is Jasmine Pearl tea.

Leaf:  The dry pearls are pretty, a mix of dark and light, with dried jasmine flowers added into the mix. I'm fond of these little hand-rolled gems, and this one is particularly fetching. 

Brewing:  I brewed this tea harshly, I wanted to push it to find anything I didn't like. I brewed it with too-hot water for a too-long time.  (By the way, this is what professional tea tasters do, all teas brewed at the boil for longer than you'd think reasonable. A poor tea can't be hidden in this manner.)

Result:  The leaf unfolded well (see below).  The tea liquor was light and aromatic, not cloying or synthetic smelling, two peeves I have with jasmine teas.  The flavor was nice, even after my harsh treatment.  The only fault I could find was that the aftertaste seemed a bit metallic, but again - I pushed the tea hard.  Upon another brewing in gentler manner, the aftertaste concern disappeared.

I've got two more California TeaHouse teas to review, which I'll do soon, I promise!!

Have you tried Jasmine Pearl tea?  What do you expect from it or like about it?

Monday, December 19, 2011


Anticipation...does your mouth water as you see this photo? Mine does! 
What do you anticipate this time of year?  Special treats like above, or perhaps your favorite treat made only once each year? 

Do you look forward to giving that heart-felt gift?

We celebrate this "season of light," as I like to call it, in so many unique ways.  Do you anticipate...

A landscape covered in snow?
A walk along the beach?
Time with family?
Quiet, alone time?
Songs and merriment?
Contemplation and remembrance?

Whatever you anticipate this year, I hope that it comes to you with love and warmth.

The photos above come from a day trip to Pomeroy Farm.  I'm sending a very special thank you to my friend who treated me to this wonderful afternoon!

Friday, December 16, 2011

New Tea Thermos, New Scarf

I got a new tea thermos, one made by Thermos, ha ha.  It's the 12-oz Nissan with two lids, one for brewing tea and one for drinking.  I like it!  (Let me also say that I love this Livestrong thermos, too.) 

The way the tea brewing works in the Nissan is like this:
1 - Preheat thermos.
2 - Add fresh hot water to the fill line.
3 - Add desired amount of tea to the infuser basket and screw in.
4 - Screw on the top lid.
5 - Turn upside down and brew.  (Yep, upside down!)
6 - When done, turn right side up, remove infuser basket and screw in drinking lid.  Add top lid, and off you go.

Here's a close-up of the infuser basket with a couple of tea leaves stuck inside.  ;-)  I'm quite pleased with the thermos.  I like that it's only 12 ounces - it fits well inside my backpack.  The top lid also keeps things dry, so I don't have to worry about liquid leaks. 

Unrelated, other than it's new scarf.  I made it from this tutorial, and I really love it! 
 Wear it doubled up like this...

Or long like this. 

I also made a purple/grey one out of lighter-weight knit fabric.  It's amazing how the weight of the fabric makes such a difference!  It's a very different scarf, but I love it too.

The first one takes a few minutes to figure out, the braiding and the tubular sewing of the seams.  The tutorial writer does a great job of walking you through the steps, even including a video.  After the first one, these become super-easy to make!  I can think of many variations and fun ways to try it out.

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

World's Messiest Tea

It was late, pushing 9 pm, and we were shopping at the Kind Wholesale Tea Market in Kunming.  We had been traveling a long time to get here, and we were tired.  This fantastic tea market was our reward!  We saw and sampled wonderful teas and tea wares.  I could have spent an entire day (maybe week), going methodically through each shop.

Just before time to board the bus, I wandered into a small store that had boxes of various teas.  The white paper-wrapped tuochas (little bowls) caught my attention. I asked to sample one (this took a bit of pantomime).  I was surprised when it wasn't a pu-erh, but rather a pressed jasmine variety.  The flavor was mild and I thought it would make a nice gift tea.  The owner seemed hesitant to sell it (as best we could tell through the language barriers), but my traveling mates and I pushed on.

And now I know why...the tea tastes OK (not bad, not great), but it is the messiest tea I've ever dealt with!  It literally falls apart in the cup,  leaving dregs all around.  It must have been made from small tea leaf particles, held together by the steaming and compressing process.   

Ah, but it's a good memory and a good lesson:  Don't buy tea after a long day of travel in a foreign country, especially when the tea seller doesn't recommend it!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Super Moist and Yummy Earl Grey Cupcakes

Patrina and her Earl Grey mini-cupcake with mascarpone frosting

I recently celebrated with Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants as they acknowledged an important business milestone.  Their tea shop was brimming with happiness and amazingly delicious and creative foods!  Patrina brews up a fine cup of tea, and in her spare team, dreams up delicious recipes using tea as an ingredient.  These Earl Grey cupcakes are worthy of celebration on their own.  Patrina has graciously allowed me to share the recipe.  Enjoy!

Patrina's Earl Grey Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting
3/4 cup butter (softened)
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup whole milk
3 Tbsp whole Earl Grey tea leaves (loose)
1 tsp finely ground Earl Grey tea leaves

To make the tea infused cupcakes...
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Prep a cupcake pan with liners.
  2. In a small saucepan, stir tea leaves into the milk.  Warm the milk until hot and steaming, making sure to stir so it doesn't scald. 
  3. Remove from heat and let steep.  You want the milk to have a strong tea flavor, so let it sit at least 10 min.
  4. Strain the tea leaves out of the milk.
  5. In a mixing bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, ground tea and salt).
  6. With a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until combined.  Then add eggs, one at a time, and finally the vanilla. 
  7. Into the butter/sugar mixture, alternate adding some dry ingredients and some of the tea-infused milk, and mix it into the butter/sugar mixture until everything is well combined.
  8. Pour the batter into liners, and bake for 14-16 minutes (full sized cupcakes).  Check with a toothpick, and when it comes out clean or very slightly moist, remove from oven.
  9. Cool on a wire rack.
To make the mascarpone frosting....
8 oz mascarpone cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1 pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract (or tea-infused vanilla extract - see below)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  1. In a medium bowl, combine mascarpone, sugar, salt and extract.  Stir until well-combined.
  2. Whip the cream to stiff peaks.
  3. Fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture gently until it is combined.  The texture should end up light and fluffy.
  4. Spread frosting generously on cooled cupcakes.
Tea-Infused Vanilla Extract
  1. In a jar, add 8 oz vodka and 3 medium vanilla beans.
  2. Let steep in vodka for 8 - 10 weeks.  Shake the bottle occasionally.
  3. When that part is done, add in 1 Tbsp of loose tea (Earl Grey for purposes above).
  4. Let sit for 3 hours and then strain, enjoy!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Weird Foods from China

The gift basket of weird foods:  Pork-filled moon cakes, deep-fried silkworm larvae, vacuum-sealed eggs, seasoned tofu slices, and chicken's foot

Steph to DH (dear hubby):  What would you like me to bring you from China?
DH:  Just that you have a good time and come home safely.
Steph:  I want to bring you something - you know, like a present. 
DH:  (Pause)  Well, you can bring me some weird foods.

Oh, how I delivered!  Shortly into the trip, my traveling companions got in on the great search for weird foods, too.  "Hey Steph, did you see the blueberry Pringles?  How about the green tea Oreos?"  By the way, the blueberry Pringles were great!  Our best shopping venue for weird foods was the Chinese truck stop!  A must-see if you ever make it to the Middle Kingdom.

Pork-filled moon cake and deep-fried silk worm larvae

The silk worm larvae are typically eaten as a beer snack.  Interestingly, I found them at an upscale tea shop!  I worked up my courage and ate one.  It's a crunchy nothingness, with a bit of a fishy flavor.
The crowning jewel - a chicken's foot

The DH:  "My lovely wife, the generous and delightful person that she is, went to China and all she brought me a packaged, pre-cooked delicacy called a chicken's foot.  I looked at it for a number of weeks, building up the courage to try it.  Finally I could put it off no longer the day came.  I decided the best way to eat this delicacy was to cook it in a can of Campbell's chicken noodle soup.  Notice the picture.  I found one little piece of meat, approximately the size of a pencil eraser. The rest of it, in my opinion, was not edible.  The remainder of the soup was as delicious as I remember from childhood."

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Hot Pot

Hot water goes into the pot

Ever had an Asian Hot Pot meal?  My first was in China, back in September.  Fun!  The general idea is to cook food at the table, in a pot of boiling  broth.  In China, this method of cooking has a history of over 1,000 years.

There are variations in how this works, but here's the method I experienced:
  1. Chimney of coals with copper pan brought to table.
  2. Pour in hot water (above), bring to a boil.
  3. With your chopsticks, add the food to be cooked.  I think we did it wrong...we dumped in both meat and veggies together.  Apparently, when you start with a water base (rather than broth), you are supposed to cook the meat first.  The broth forms naturally, and then you cook the veggies.
  4. Wait until it's ready, grab out with the chopsticks and enjoy!  It was fun!
Adding thinly sliced meats to cook and make the broth

Have you had hot pot?  How did it work?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

A Very Decadent Tea

Champagne with hibiscus flower

I've been waiting to write about this incredible tea party.  I wanted to use it as an inspiration for any holiday entertaining you might be doing.  Just look at these gorgeous foods and dream!  My special thanks to the hostess of this fine multi-course event, along with the engaging company.  I felt very special! 

Let's start with the cocktail, above.  I think this is beautiful!  A lovely hibiscus flower (preserved in a sweet syrup) adorns the champagne flute.  The flower is edible, and as it turns out, delicious.  If you're in CA, find these flowers at BevMo.  This drink is guaranteed to impress your guests!  You could easily serve it in sparkling juice if you wanted a non-alcoholic version.

Miniature rose cupcake

Next up, a moist and scrumptious rose cupcake.  We did "dessert first!"  Let me assure you, I ate several more than one.

Peach soup with frozen raspberries, drizzled with a liqueur

This next course is one that I can see using often.  We had peach soup, a mix of fresh peaches, cream and delicate spices.  Over that was the cleverest of treats - frozen raspberries on a skewer, drizzled with a liqueur to give them a bit of a punch.  The raspberries were a great contrast to the peach soup in both texture and flavor, and added a nice color burst, too.  I can think of many uses for these frozen raspberries (or blackberries, or blueberries, or strawberry chunks...)

We followed the peach soup with delightful Kensington Palace Scones.  I must have been too busy trying to look refined as I stuffed myself, because I forgot to take a photo.

Three tiers of savories

Then came the savories: 
  • Top row:  Our hostess's signature sandwich:  Napoleon of Jamon de Paris, Boursin Cheese, Violet Mustard and Cornichon, and a tart with honeyed goat cheese, topped with fig
  • Middle row:  Savory Madeleines made of polenta and fresh corn kernels with a dollop of jalapeno jelly, and a Swedish pancake stuffed with salmon and an herbed goat cheese
  • Bottom row:  Profiterole with chicken salad in an oil-based dressing, and ladybug tea sandwiches made with freshly cut basil and burrata, a fresh cheese made from mozzarella and cream
  • Not shown:  Pork loin sandwich and sausage roll with caramel and sugared sage on top

Key lime mousse with cape gooseberry

The first time I tasted a cape gooseberry was at tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC.  I was there with a dear friend.  Seeing the gooseberry in this dessert awakened a very special memory for me.

Three tiers of desserts

But we're not done yet!  Next we had a selection of desserts:  rose ice cream tarts topped with red currants, lemon bars with gold leaf and homemade French macaroons.  I love macaroons, and I know they can be quite fussy to make.  Look at the perfect "feet" on these (below). 

May this blog posting inspire your holiday (or other future) entertaining!  I hope this has been a visual delight for you.  It certainly has been a delight for me, to relive it and think of the wonderful day spent in the company of old and new friends.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Steamed Bao

My first attempt at steamed bao

During the China tour, we ate a lot of interesting foods including steamed bao (buns).  These were often served for breakfast.  They're white, chewey bread balls, both plain and stuffed.  Common fillings included pork, veggies, tofu, or fruit and nuts.  I came home and decided to try my hand at making steamed bao.  It was fun and also more work than I expected!

I used a recipe in the book Dim Sum: The Art of Chinese Tea Lunch, by Ellen Leong Blonder.  (Here's a similar recipe.)  This is a great little book, and it has a solid introduction on Chinese teas.  I made two varieities of steamed bao, onion/tofu with a sweet soy sauce and another with nuts and apples. 

The basic outline is to make a special yeast dough, let it rise, knead it down, divide into pieces and fill/shape, rise again, then steam.  It took the bulk of a day.  The good news is that these freeze very well, so you can make them ahead and resteam for serving.

Rolling out the dough, ready to fill with the tofu/onion mix

Ready to steam

These steam for about 10 minutes.  The steamer basket should be lined with moist cheese cloth, and the bao should sit on parchment paper.

WARNING!  Don't let the cheese cloth hang over the edge of the steamer basket on a gas stove.  Oops!  It catches on fire, I know first hand.  No permanent damage.

My steamed bao turned out well.  Good flavor, nice texture.  I would like to make them again, but next time I'll know what I'm getting into!  :-)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Food and Beverage Week

Hello, All!  I've decided to blog this week about tea-related food and beverages.  (Food with tea in it, some of our meals in China, beverages that use tea, etc.)  I hope to post every day this week (if work stays in its box), so check back often.  I'd also love to hear from you.  Comments are always welcome here, whether you're a life-long tea lover, a new convert, or just tea-curious.  You can even comment if you drink the "other" stuff or have no interest in tea at all.  ;-)

As an aside, I've been spending time this weekend thinking about hope and how without it, it's hard for me to maintain joy (my word for the year).  Friend Esme had a very timely blog posting about hope.  It's a gift I'd like to share.  Hope sometims comes in the littlest of things.

In joy,

My Chai
Chai is one of my favorite things about winter.  I don't drink chai any other time of the year; it's a winter comfort beverage.  It gives me something to anticipate with joy in a season that can be dark and dank, both externally and internally.

Cloves, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, peppercorns, star anise

I've been toasting my own chai spices.  Aside from drinking the chai, the best part is smelling the toasted spices as I grind them.  Here's my latest favorite recipe.  This will make enough for ~4 batches, or a small jar to give as a gift.  (The inspiration for this version came from Food for Friends, by Sally Pasley Vargas.)

Chai Spice Mix
  • 3-4 cinnamon sticks, (about 2 inches)
  • 2 Tablespoons cardamom pods
  • 1 Tablespoon cloves (whole)
  • 1/2 Tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp peppercorns (I use a lot more; I like the spicy bite)
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (or fresh, my preference)

Have you ever eaten a coriander seed, all by itself?  Oh, wow!  Try it simply dried, and then try it toasted.  French guy behind me in line at the grocery store saw that I was buying coriander, and spent several minutes singing the praises of this spice. 

Toast everything except ginger in a cast iron (or heavy-bottomed) dry skillet, about 3 minutes, until is starts to get fragrant.  Place into mortar and pestle and crush coarsely (keep the pieces relatively large).  Be sure to break the cinnamon sticks into halves or thirds.  (If you don't have a mortar and pestle, try your cutting board and a rolling pin.)  Add ginger (if using the powdered kind) and allow to cool.  Store in an airtight container.  (Vargas says this mix should keep for up to 6 months.  I can't comment; mine is short-lived.)

Making Chai - 2 -3 servings
  • In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup milk with 2 rounded teaspoons of the Chai Mix.  If using fresh ginger, add several slices now.
  • Warm the milk over medium-low heat until bubbles just begin to boil.  (Do not boil!)
  • Turn off heat and cover.  Allow to steep for at least 10 minutes.
  • In the mean time, make 2 cups of a strong black tea.  I recommend Assam.
  • After the milk has steeped, mix the tea with the milk, strain and serve. 
I usually share this round with the DH, then put another cup of milk in with the spices (second steeping).  I'll pour this off into a glass container and keep it in the fridge for later use.  I'll simply rewarm and make a pot of tea.  Also, I seldom mix the tea and the milk in the pan.  Instead, I use a ratio of 2 parts tea with 1 part milk direct into the mug.  

Note:  You'll not see any sweetener in this recipe.  Surprised?  I prefer my chai without sweetener.  When we were in India, each place we had chai served it with the sweetener on the side.  Yay!  (However, I understand that street vendors always have the sweetener included.  This 'on the side' stuff is just for the fussy ones among us, at places like restaurants and hotels.)  If you prefer your chai sweetened, do so in the mug. I recommend honey or agave.  I think they bring out a caramel-like note that is missing in sugar.

Do you enjoy chai?  Ever tried it with coriander?  Have a favorite chai recipe?  What's your secret ingredient?  Any other tips or suggestions?

Friday, December 02, 2011

Introducing: Dainty Dining

Dainty Dining: Vintage recipes, memories and memorabilia from America's department store tea rooms

I am incredibly excited to share with you a new book, released by a long-time blogging friend, Angela McRae of Tea with FriendsI'm so pleased to be a part of the book release blog tour.

Angela sweetly sent me a copy of the book, and I devoured it in one sitting!  It's a fun way to learn about our country's history in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  You'll read inspiring life stories and hear echoes from a time when ladies put on gloves to go shopping, and then to tea!  You'll see historical photos of what the stores and tea rooms looked like in their day.  You'll be tempted by delicious recipes from the luncheon and tea menus.  For example, find instructions to make Seafood Newburg, Chicken a la King, and many types of pie (chicken, rum, strawberry, and on!).

Dainty Dining chronicles the stories of these beloved department store tea rooms, how they came to be, their owners, unique atmospheres, and specialty recipes. 

Sadly, by the time I was born, the glory days were gone for department store tea rooms.  I have been lucky enough to take tea at the Rotunda at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco.  (This is a salvaged portion of the original beaux-arts building, The City of Paris Dry Goods.) I also visited the reproduction L.S. Ayres Tea Room at the Indiana State Museum.  Now, with Dainty Dining in my hands and a cup of tea at my side, I fill my head with visions of a time gone by.

Do you have stories about department store tea rooms?  I'd love to hear them!

More info:
  • The Dainty Dining blog, with purchase information
  • Find recipes from the book at this newspaper article