Friday, November 30, 2012

Local Tea Happenings

A few local tea things of note:

Seattle Holiday Tea Fundraiser  Saturday, December 8th.  Wish I could go!  This will be a terrific event with tastings from Floating Leaves, McIntosh Tea, Miro Tea, Phoenix Tea, Tea Geek and more!

Stash Tea Opens its first Tea Bar: Most of us think of Stash only as tea bags, but I've heard that the store offers a selection of loose teas, too.  I'll check it out and report back.  I'm noting the trend of mainstream tea companies opening tea bars...Starbucks, Stash...who's next?

Wu-Wo Tea CeremonyOffering classes in the new year!  Interested?  Let the Wu-Wo group know.

Happy Holiday season!  I call the (herbal) tea below "Christmas Tree Tea" because the little stalks of thyme look like trees to me.

Christmas Tree Tea

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Safe Internet Behavior

Dear Friends - This is a Public Service Announcement for safe Internet behavior.  I work in high tech and my company does a good job of teaching us to use the Internet safely.  I want to pass along some best practices.

#1 - Don't shop or check your bank statements while using public wifi (e.g., from Starbuck's or the library).  Save the online shopping for when you are connected to a private network.  And make sure that your home wifi is password protected!

#2 - Only enter your personal information and credit card info at websites that start with https:// That "s" on the end of the string stands for "secure" and is really important.

#3 - Beware of holiday spam.  Unfortunately, many e-greetings come with hidden malware.  Watch out for spoofs (see #4) and avoid email pleas for donations (see #5).  I sound a little like the Grinch here - but please use caution with those "forward" e-mails that direct you to click on a link. While you may be taken to a funny video, you may also be downloading malware.  I don't click any link from a funny/forward email unless I personally know the original source of the website (and that's rare).

#4 - Never, ever, ever click a link that looks suspicious.  For example, you may receive an email out of the blue that looks like it's from a friend, but says only, "Check this out!" and points you to a link.  STOP!!  Don't click that link.  Instead, send a fresh (not a reply) email to your friend and ask if she intended to send you a link. 

#5 - When donating money, go straight to the charity's website (e.g., rather than clicking on links in an email or website sidebar. 

#6 - Don't tell the world or all of your Facebook friends that you're going to be out of town.  It's great to wax poetic after you've returned, but don't advertise in advance.

#7 - Check your social media privacy settings.  I've noticed that Facebook changes things a lot and I'm regularly needing to re-set my privacy settings to more stringent choices.  Make this a regular habit. 

#8 - Keep your virus protection software up to date.

#9 - Regularly check for spyware.  (I like the Spybot product and it's free.)

#10 - Accept Facebook Friend invitations with caution.  I only accept friends from people I know well, and I only do this from within Facebook itself after I've logged in with my password.  I do not accept them from email (see #4).  Facebook emails can be spoofed, so it's best to do your business within the application.

Got any other tips to share?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The New Year of Tea and Robiraki

I've recently learned that November is the month for new tea in the Japanese Tea Ceremony.  The spring-picked teas are stored in jars like this one and allowed to rest until November, when the seal is broken and the fresh tea is ground into matcha (as needed).  Look at the beauty of the knots that tie the jar.  Each side is unique.  In November, we drink the year's freshest tea! A definite cause for a special tea ceremony.

In parallel, November is when the tea room is reconfigured and the sunken hearth becomes the center, literally and figuratively.  (In the warmer months, we use a different type of brazier.)  The ceremony that celebrates the opening of the hearth and the year's new tea is called Robiraki.  I had the privilege of attending my tea school's Robiraki celebration recently and it was wonderful!

My attempt to describe this doesn't give the full picture. I'm writing a detailed account for my mother, and it's up to four pages already.  I'll try to be brief here.  :-)  In short, this was my first "full" tea ceremony experience which means that it included a meal, thick tea and thin tea.  The event was almost three hours.  Thank goodness I had been practicing sitting on my knees! 

The guests gathered in the waiting area and enjoyed hot water scented with puffed rice, served in beautiful sand colored cups with sky blue interiors.  When it was time, our first guest (our guide for the event) led us into the tea room.  We entered in a kneeling position, then stood and walked to appreciate the the scroll and the utensils.  Having settled ourselves in our places on the tatami mats, our host (Margie-sensei) entered the room and greeted each of us with a personal welcome.  

Next she served us a wonderful meal of seasonally-appropriate foods, including a soup with vegetables, mushrooms and lily flowers; rice pressed into beautiful shapes; a pillow of spinach served on a shiso leaf with grilled eggplant and drizzled in hoisin sauce; roasted chestnuts and kelp; a Japanese root vegetable and pickled fuyu persimmon.  We sipped a delicious sake, served cold in a very flat bowl (like a saucer).  Once we finished, we dropped our chopsticks in unison to signal to the host. After the dishes had been removed, we were treated to a very special and traditional sweet called zenzai, adzuki beans in a sweet, syrupy soup.  Delicious! 

We exited the tea room to stretch our legs while our host prepared for the central part of the experience, making the thick tea (koicha).  This is the most formal time of the event.  Upon hearing the singing bowl, we returned to the tea room.  A lovely incense aroma greeted us.  Margie-sensei entered with the tea-making implements.  She purified the items, this being for the symbolic purpose of preparing our hearts and minds as everything came into the tea room already cleaned.  She carefully warmed the tea bowl and whisk and then added the correct amount of matcha powder.  Since this is November, we drank fresh tea of a superior grade for koicha. She added hot water and kneaded the tea ~100 strokes until it became shiny and the right consistency.  She placed the bowl to her right, at the side of the hearth, and that is the signal the tea is ready. 

The first guest retrieved the bowl.  She excused herself for drinking before me, then thanked the host for preparing the tea.  After lifting the bowl in gratitude, she enjoyed her first sip.  She took about three sips then wiped the tea bowl where she has drank.  She passed the bowl to me and I repeated the process, then passing to the final guest.  The lingering sweetness from the zenzai mingled with the subtle bitterness of the tea in a way that was most pleasing. When the last guest finished, he returned the bowl to the first guest and in order, we each had a chance to admire the bowl.  Koicha is typically served in a black raku tea bowl and the verdant green against the black was striking. 

Margie-sensei then tidied up the utensils and closed this portion of the ceremony by removing the implements.  We took another stretch break while she prepared for thin tea, usucha.  (This is the portion of the tea ceremony that I am currently learning, and there are many variations.  I will be studying this for some time!)  She returned to the room with another type of sweet, senbei.  It's a lightly sweetened and flaky rice cracker.  She also brought in a new tea bowl, this one in shino style, and other tea-making tools.  She purified things once again and invited the first guest to enjoy her sweet.  With thin tea, each guest is made her/his own bowl of tea.  After the first guest enjoyed her sweet and tea, it was my turn.  The senbei was delicious and light, and again its flavors complement the usucha.  Usucha is made with less matcha powder than koicha.  In the style that I am studying (Urasenke),  it is whipped until a wonderful froth forms on top.  After I finished the tea, I looked at the bowl in detail and appreciated its beauty.  Once we have each enjoyed our bowl of tea, Margie-sensi closed the ceremony. 

It was an honor to participate in this tea ceremony.  Margie-sensei has given so much of her life to studying the way of tea.  I am drawn to this experience for the ritual of things.  After this experience, I find myself deeply soothed and centered, and quietly joyful. Making and drinking a bowl of tea can be transforming. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Meal of Thanksgiving

Thought I'd take a walk down memory lane with a meal of thanksgiving from a little over a year ago...

It was the last day of our China/India Tea Tour and we were visiting with Mr. Rajiv Lochan, of Lochan Tea, in Siliguri, India.  His family had prepared this delicious sendoff feast for us to enjoy in their home.  To have such a special home-cooked meal was deeply touching. 

I'll write more about the Lochan family tea business soon, but for now I want to focus on this meal.  My heart was full of thanks for the past several weeks of touring throughout China, Tibet and India.  I felt so honored to be invited into Mr. Lochan's home and to share this meal with his family.  It was especially touching to meet his children, his wife and his mother. 

The food was exceptional!  Our feast included two types of raita (cucumber/onion and pineapple), lentils, paneer cheese in a delicous sauce, peas and potatoes, beautiful rice, mint chutney and puri, a traditional fried puff bread.  We also enjoyed traditional Indian sweets - oh, my so good!  The orange cups above had a cookie center, covered with finely chopped and candied orange peel.  Wow!  And a milk sweet, which is milk that has been cooked down very slowly and becomes a wonderful texture.  
Rajiv Lochan in his office

As we were leaving, I placed my hands in the prayer-at-heart position and said "namaste" to Mr. Lochan's mother.  She offered the same parting wish to me and patted me on the arm.  It was like a blessing. This moment is with me still!

Today I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have taken this trip, the means to do so, and the  positive influence that tea has in my life.  I am thankful for the friends I made along the journey.

I give thanks to all my friends who share their kindness so generously.  I offer up thanks for my family that wants only the best for me.  And I am especially grateful for my wonderful DH (dear hubby).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Persimmon Hearts

If you need a last-minute, easy and yummy Thanksgiving treat, try these persimmon pastry hearts!  I made up this super-simple recipe, and I look forward to having it again soon.

Fuyu persimmons are new to me.  I grew up in the Midwest with the native persimmon, smaller and only edible when mushy.  When I discovered that fuyu persimmons could be eaten like an apple, I was doubtful...until I took my first bite.  They are yummy raw, but also cooked!  I even had pickled ones recently that were heavenly.
The photo above is from the Asia Tea Tour in 2011.  We visited a street market and these fuyu persimmons were colorful and abundant. (See more pictures of the Beijing street market.)

I had never seen them in the US in a store until I moved to the Pacific Northwest.  Are they now being carried back home in the Midwest or other places?

The recipe is simple...

The filling
* Peel and chop a fuyu persimmon into very small pieces
* Splash on a little lemon juice (just enough to wet)
* Sprinkle on 1-2 tsp of sugar, depending on your preference (it doesn't take much, the fruit is quite sweet)
* Sprinkle on a bit of your favorite spices (I used a sprinkling of cloves)
* Stir and let sit for a few minutes; the mix will get a little juicier

The pastry
* Either make or buy pie crust pastry (vegan versions work well for this!)
* Roll out the pastry to pie-pan size, and fold over to make a double layer (or place two sheets together)
* Cut out heart shapes (you want two layers)
* Open the layers and add a the filling, taking it near the edge
* Press the layers together

The baking
* Bake for ~15-20 minutes, or until the pastry is done and turning golden
* Once or twice during the baking, use a brush to bathe the crust with any juice that escapes (this helps with making it golden, especially for vegan pastry)
* When done, remove from oven and allow the hearts to cool until they can be handled with the fingers
* FYI - I made mine in the toaster oven; it's a fast treat for two

Monday, November 19, 2012

Honored to be Featured - Teaist Blog

Happy Monday!  I've been featured on the Teaist's blog in an interview.  Check it out!  I'm very honored. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Starbucks Buys Teavana: $620 Million

Wow -

I confess, I'm a skeptic.  There are at least two major camps of thought in the tea world right now.  Camp one:  Baaaaaaad  news.  Doom and gloom.  Camp Two:  Cautiously optimistic that this will help grow tea's popularity overall.

I see the logic in both of those viewpoints and I waffle betwen them freely.  I'll hope for the best.
What do you think?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Two Vegan Tea Party Sandwiches

Here are two very simple recipes from the after work tea party earlier in the week.  Let me know if you try them!  I'd love your feedback.

I needed things that could be made ahead.  I also wanted one sandwich that had a bit of sweetness and one that was more savory.  And they're both vegan, which is something you're going to see me write more about.  I'm not trying to be preachy, as I'm not strictly vegan or even vegetarian (mostly so inside our home).  Rather, I find this a fun challenge, and a healthy one too!  So here we go...

Chow Chow with Cream Cheese
Marmalady shared a jar of her famous chow chow with the me.  It's yummy!  Sweet with a bit of tartness, colorful and just perfect for a tea sandwich.

To prepare, I spread vegan cream cheese on both sides of hearty bread (with crusts removed).  It's easy to find vegan breads in the grocery store.  Just watch out for whey and honey, among the other obvious items.  Then I spread on the chow chow, taking it right up to the edge so that the color would peek through.  I cut into triangles and devoured an entire sandwich on the spot.  Delicious! 

Honestly, I'm surprised how well the vegan cream cheese works.

Mushroom on Toast

This one is sure to please even the most carnivorous of your friends.  Sautee half an onion and one crushed clove of garlic.  Add a pan full of diced mushrooms.  Sautee until the mushrooms release their juices and then reabsorb it (some liquid also evaporates).  Season with just a pinch of salt and plenty of black pepper.  Shape your bread as desired and toast it.  Spoon on the mushroom mixture and enjoy several helpings.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An After-Work Tea Party

A friend and I enjoyed a tea party last evening after work. We've both got full schedules and wanted some dedicated time to catch up. Tea is the best way for that, I think!

We kept things streamlined and I think it turned out beautifully.  Notice the clean, unfussy display.  I love it!
We started with two finger sandwiches:  Mushrooms on toast and chow chow with cream cheese (recipes).  We enjoyed a delicious Summer 2012 “Mi Xiang” oolong tea from Global Tea Hut, sent by a generous friend in Taiwan. 
Next we enjoyed pumpkin scones with mock Devonshire cream and the DH's homemade red plum jam.  We drank a Yunnan Gold tea, courtesy of a sample provided by Jing Tea We experimented with the best way to brew this and agreed that it needs a light steeping (don't overdo it!).

The finishing touch was a fuyu persimmon heart.  I made this recipe up and was quite pleased with the result.  Lightly sweet with a pretty orange center.

And by the way, all recipes were vegan with the exception of the pastry crust.  And they were soooo yummy, even though I was the cook.  ;-)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Meatless Monday 15: Simple Foods

We eat a lot of very simply prepared food.  Here's a great example:  steamed squash with nothing on it.  Boiled potatoes with parsley and steamed spinach with a splash of vinegar.  That's it!  no butter, brown sugar, etc.

Food tastes so good just as it is!

What do you eat simply, unadorned? 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

An Autum Poem at the Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden on an Autumn Day
11/8/12   ~Steph

The poem was the day, the quiet
The falling twirl of two leaves, entwined
Like lovers landing noisily; their dance the world

The path to myself and the red-gold hillside
The moss on the rocks and the cut-back iris
The fat, slow koi being coy with me

The bench that beckoned
Two cups of tea, one for me
And one for a soul awhile gone

We sat and then
We walked and then
She departed

Me, having said what I needed
Her, having been remembered
Each at peace

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Bob's Red Mill Scottish Oatmeal Scone Mix

I haven't tried a scone mix for a long time, preferring to make them from scratch.  However, I spied this version on the shelf recently and wanted to give it a try.  Bob's Red Mill is a local company, and I am a fan of its products (lots of whole grains, and also great options for gluten-free).  Do you have Bob's Red Mill on your grocer's shelves?

I was pleased!  The scones were delicious, lightly sweet and full of warming fall spices.  The first ingredient is whole wheat pastry flour, which makes me happy.  Wish I had a picture, but we gobbled them up too quickly.  ;-)

Do you have a favorite scone mix? 

Monday, November 05, 2012

Small Things (New Teapot and Pitcher)

Showing the small size of this teapot in my hands

I am very fortunate to have generous friends in my life!  Generous in sharing time, tea, love, support, creative passions, and even gifts.  The little teapot shown above and below is from a friend who thought it matched my taste.  I seem to be drawn to the delicate, small ones.  My friend noticed and gifted this lovely pot to me. (She prefers larger ones.)  THANK YOU! 

It's typical in Gongfu and Wu-Wo style brewing to use a teapot and a serving pot.  Of course then, I needed a serving vessel to coordinate with the teapot.  While a glass one would do, when my friend steered me to this one from local potter Richard Brandt, I knew it was meant to be a pair!  (See Marmalady's writeup on Richard.)

I've dedicated this pot to brewing Oriental Beauty (Bai Hao) and that family of oolong teas (e.g, Concubine).  I've used it several times over the last few weeks, and while it's small and delicate, it's a durable little workhorse, too! 

The serving pot has a lovely texture - smooth with just a bit of roughness for interest.  As I handle it, the pottery will absorb oils from my hands and become shinier.  An extra special bit is the memory I have of talking to Richard, the potter, about this piece at the NW Tea Fest.

There's just something about small things, things that can fit into your hand.  They're comforting to hold, to rub, to tuck away in secret places.  What small things do you treasure?