Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Plum Blossoms and Tea

Plum Blossom, a sign of early spring

The Chinese culture appreciates plum blossoms as part of the three friends of winter trilogy:  pine for evergreen, bamboo for its strength and flexibility, and plum blossom for its hardiness to bloom in the coldest time of year.  The Japanese use an entire month (Feb) in the chanoyu calendar to appreciation of ume, or plum blossom. 

It's easy to understand why.  Recently, the DH and I scouted for a plum tree in the forgotten scrub of roadsides and abandoned orchards near us.  None were blooming just yet, but they offered big, fat buds full of hope and promise.  We brought home several branches and within a few days, they responded with these lovely blossoms.

Ume paper lantern, with the DH's artwork in the background

This time of year is like a big magical secret.  The plants are stirring and budding, the birds begin to return.  It's a secret because not everyone notices.  I love the noticing.  It's one of the reasons I also lovey the Japanese Tea Ceremony.  It's full of mindfulness practices of noticing the seasons.

Crane obi and plum blossom kimono, photo by the DH
Thanks to my tea friend who loaned me this very special, seasonal party kimono to wear at a recent outing

The magic of life and adventure...to spy the first crocus fronds before they bloom, to see the daffodils just barely poking their little heads out of the soil, to feel my heart soar with the first sighting of plum branches fat with buds.  The anticipation, it's delicious. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Genmaicha on a Rainy Day

I've just come in from the rain + wind + cool.  What a welcome sight, this plum tree branch and my small tetsubin pot (enameled, not traditional) full of steaming genmaicha. 

Genmaicha means brown rice tea.  It's sometimes called "popcorn tea" - you can see why. ;-)  The puffy kernels are actually roasted brown rice that has popped in the roasting process.  The green tea is typically sencha.  The flavor is nutty and savory, almost like a broth.  It was the perfect tea to warm my bones today.

Do you have a favorite tea to drink on a cold day?  Have you had genmaicha?  Do you like it?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lunar (Chinese) New Year 2013

The cutest snake I've ever seen, gift from Margie Sensei

We're about half way through the Chinese New Year celebrations for 2013.  Things got rolling on February 10th, and in Asian communities worldwide this is a big celebration.  People travel to be with family, there are fireworks, lion dances and all kinds of yummy foods.  Fifteen days later, the celebration culminates with the lantern viewing festival.  (If you're in Portland, check out the festivities at the Lan Su Chinese Garden.)

2013 is the year of the Snake in the Chinese zodiac (a twelve year cycle).  People born under the snake sign are purported to demonstrate intelligence, hard work and a quiet nature.  They appreciate fine things. 

I've been afraid of snakes (the animal, not the human) since my childhood.  I think it's an inherited fear.  I've worked to reduce my sensitivity, even going to rattlesnake school when I was living in New Mexico.  (It helped.)  Perhaps this is the year to make even more peace with snakes.  After all, the Ox (my sign) is supposed to be compatible.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!  Happy and Prosperous New Year to you!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Rosemary Herbal Tea

Steeping a rosemary wreath

We've had the sniffles at my house, and the DH and I have been sipping mugs of rosemary (above) and thyme herbal infusions.

I'm fond of rosemary.  I love its aroma and flavor.  It's featured in my favorite cucumber sandwich recipe.  It's the herb of remembrance.  (Friend Nancy and her sister have a tearoom, herb store and blog related to this tradition.) 

Where I live, it grows year-round and I feel fortunate to be able to snip a few branches even in the winter!  It 's not fussy.  Here, I just rinsed the leaves, coiled them and poured boiling water over to steep for 10 minutes.  In later spring, the bush provides another gift:  pretty pale blue blooms.

There are many uses for the herbal infusion.  It has antioxidants as well as other compounds that are anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-fungal and anti-septic.  It's also a good source of folic acid, vitamins A, and C and iron.  There are probably many other benefits.

Have you ever tried a rosemary infusion?  I've found it to have a very pleasing aroma and flavor.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

V-Day, Another Look

Vegan chocolate zucchini cake 

Happy Valentine's Day!  I've been enjoying making chocolate cake and taking simple little Valentine's Cards to my teammates.  My niece sent me such a sweet one that she authored and illustrated herself, "I hope you enjoy this very card I give you."  My heart melts!

And so it is for my niece and the world of girls and young women that I turn my thoughts to a very non-sweet topic.  Some estimates suggest that one in three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime.  One---in---three.  As women, as women and men, we all suffer from the abuse.

On this Valentine's Day, I'm so grateful for my DH and my family and friends.  They love and support me even when we disagree.  I contemplate what I can do to make a difference to those who aren't so fortunate.
And I'm looking forward to this film coming my way soon! (My company is a sponsor, and I'm so glad to see the good work here!)


Monday, February 11, 2013

Life Unfurling

The Unfurled Life of a Buddha Hand Tea

I blogged only once last week.  Usually in this situation I apply pressure to myself to "get something up!" and feel a little stressed about it.  Today, I am working on simply noticing...
- that I've been busy
- that I feel tension about not blogging
- that I am the source of that tension
- that everything is OK just as it is

This practice of noticing is homework from a class I'm taking that includes meditation, yoga and other mindfulness skills.  The class is difficult, the homework is challenging and time-consuming.  It's all worth the effort.  We are learning to notice and embrace life just as it is.

This Buddha Hand tea has a life determined in part by its own form and strength, but also by external factors (the tea grower, maker, brewer, drinker, etc.).  The leaves unfurl as the hot water envelopes them.  They dance beautifully in their "agony of the leaf."   I notice them and savor them. That is my homework - to notice and savor my life.  

Monday, February 04, 2013

An Oolong Tea Tasting for my Senpai

Stephanie sharing tea info

One of the things that has been a surprise as I've begun to study chanoyou - and a good surprise - is the extent to which I would become part of a community.  I had no idea how much my fellow students would contribute to my learning.  I'm the "youngest" student these days, in terms of years in study.  My Senpai, the students senior to me, play an active role in my learning.  I get the amazing gift of observing their lessons.  They provide instruction to me in how to behave overall and what to do in the prep area.  They are patient with me when I make mistakes and they encourage me to keep going.  They share stories of their own ah-ha moments.  They generously share all of this and so much more.  As a thank you, I hosted an oolong tea tasting yesterday.  I thought my Senpai might enjoy an afternoon sampling teas from another part of Asia.

David preparing to brew
My partner in this endeavor was David, of PDX TEA.  We met at his shop, a wonderful space full of windows and tea wares.  We shared the presentation of the teas and I thought we made a great team!  It's a real joy to work fluidly with another person. 
Unrolled Buddha Hand tea leaf - look at that giant!

We sampled 5 teas:
- Baozhong, lightly oxidized (from Floating Leaves)
- Buddha Hand, lightly oxidized and lightly roasted (from Floating Leaves)
- Bai Hao, aka Oriental Beauty, highly oxidized (from Imperial Tea Court)
- Tie Guan Yin, light oxidation and deep roast  (from PDX TEA)
- Aged Miaoli, part oxidation, medium roast, aged 15-20 years (from PDX TEA)

I love having personal relationships with my tea vendors!  Shiuwen of Floating Leaves helped me select which teas to feature in this event.  Roy of Imperial Tea Court provided detailed information on the Bai Hao, including pronunciation guidance for the Hsinchu Province  ;-).  David of PDX TEA not only offered the use of his space, but shared his wisdom and brewing skills. 

A busy tea brewing table!

Tea is so amazing.  There's a lifetime of study ahead!

Thanks to David for snapping the photos of me!